Prisha Hill

Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Tag: Menstrual Cup

Baby Jay is here

So last time I promised I’d do a tutorial on how to make cloth sanitary pads but I figured I should at least also be able to report on how they perform, which meant waiting for little one’s arrival.

For the last 2 weeks of my pregnancy I had been getting little hints that labour was close so I was more than ready to meet our little guy by the time he arrived.

Before I go on I should point out that Paul and I had done a hypnobirthing course, specifically the Wise Hippo programme. I wanted to do hypnobirthing because I’d heard so many wonderful things – from entirely pain-free births to really short labour times, I was completely sold! We turned up for our first class and were told these things are not guaranteed, the course is about empowering us to have a positive birth experience… typical!

Anyway, I practiced everyday regardless. I found the MP3 tracks we were given relaxed me so much I was asleep within a couple of minutes of putting them on so I started listening to them while doing various jobs, like cleaning the house and making my pads etc. I think that also helped while I was in labour because I was still moving around and keeping active while trying to be as calm and relaxed as possible.

So basically on Sunday night I noticed I was bleeding… worried, I rang the hospital and arranged to go in to triage. I popped a homemade pad in and went along to the hospital. The midwife had a look at the pad and also did an internal check and reassured me it was just a show. Feeling very relieved we then made our way back home where I then got all of 2 hours sleep (my own fault for binge-watching a certain show) before starting to feel some twinges.

It was around 3.30am on Monday 6th August and I was absolutely convinced they were just Braxton Hicks so I simply went back to sleep. Eventually though I couldn’t sleep and started to get excited that things might finally be happening. Around 6.30am I woke Paul up and asked him to walk the dog and then come back and start timing a few contractions just in case it was the real thing.

I put the hypnobirth music on and got settled while I waited for Paul to get back. I was so calm and relaxed during each contraction that he had no idea when to time and so I had to really concentrate on staying awake enough to tell him when to start and stop timing. Before I knew it we were at 3 in 10 minutes, lasting a minute, and it was time to head to the hospital… although I was still convinced they were just Braxton Hicks.

I was having to concentrate on my breathing and visualisations more and more in the car but Paul was great at jumping in and helping me stay focussed. Eventually we got to the hospital and went through my birth plan with the midwife. It was around this time things started to ease up a bit. The midwives suggested keeping me in for an hour to see if things picked up. I stopped trying to focus and just let the sleep take me – I’m not sure how often women normally sleep through contractions but I highly recommend it!

Unfortunately, the midwives decided it was best if I continued to labour at home so off we went. The car ride home was awful! The contractions were super intense and I simply couldn’t focus anymore. Paul did his best to help me through each one but his priority was on driving safely, of course.

We finally made it home and I immediately stripped off and collapsed on the bed with the same MP3 track still playing on loop from earlier on. Paul went downstairs to make some toast as neither of us had eaten anything yet. At this point I completely lost control and declared I couldn’t do it anymore as I wasn’t getting a break. Paul realised that meant baby would be arriving soon and tried to get me dressed and back to the hospital but I insisted he rub my back instead. He managed to get a top on me before I announced that my waters had just gone and I could feel my whole body bearing down. Paul then phoned the hospital who stayed on the line with him while also dispatching 2 community midwives and an ambulance to the house.

30 minutes after arriving home from the hospital I gave birth to little Jay… we wouldn’t have made it back to the hospital in time even if I had cooperated with Paul trying to dress me. Amazingly, the midwives arrived before the ambulance. They knocked on the door just as Paul could see the top of Jay’s head appear and they came bursting into the room just in time to catch his body.

He is a perfectly happy and healthy little guy but he came out with both hands up by his head which meant I suffered a 3rd degree tear… another draw of hypnobirthing is the low tearing rates but sadly that one was out of my reach. While we waited for the ambulance one of the midwives looked through my birthplan and pointed out that although it was an unplanned homebirth I had in fact managed to achieve almost everything I had specified, which I can’t really complain about!

As for the hypnobirthing: I wish I had realised how close I was at the time I lost control – I think that would have made it easier, but being a first time mum I obviously had no idea how close I was. Yes, I had a shorter labour than the average ‘normal’ labour time. No, I wasn’t technically in pain but I was pretty far from the orgasmic experience some other women report – the pressure was incredibly intense, especially before my body started pushing, and it was just impossible for me to be vaguely comfortable let alone in a position to think about my ‘happy place’. However, I’ll take intense pressure and discomfort over pain any day!

Jay and I had to spend his first night in hospital (back home the following evening) while the staff made sure I was okay after being stitched back up. For this reason we broke out the disposables. I can honestly say the reusable cloth pads are more comfortable than the disposable ones. They’re also far more absorbent so it was just as well I had been willing to use the disposables at the hospital – one of the questions I was asked was whether I had managed to soak through a pad within 2 hours. Thankfully the answer was no anyway, but it would have been a ‘hell no’ from a cloth pad.

The patterns I used to make my pads were purchased online (as were the materials) and I made about 14 maternity pads based on online recommendations. However, this was more than I needed as I found 1 maternity pad was enough to last me all day. The cloth pads also beat the disposables when it comes to leakage as well.

So here’s how to make your own. Equipment:

  1. You’ll need a sewing machine (unless you have the time and patience to hand stitch).
  2. Pattern, which you can find online (paid or free) or you can even create your own if you’re so inclined. I purchased mine through Etsy
  3. Outer fabric – I chose a purple cotton fat quarters in various patterns, but it can be whatever you want.
  4. Waterproof inner layer. I used PUL, which is polyurethane laminate – basically a super thin layer of laminate over the fabric to make it waterproof.
  5. The next layer on top of that is the absorbency layer. I used Zorb but Terry Towelling is just as effective. You’ll want to use 2-3 layers of Towelling to every 1 layer of Zorb, and I used 2 layers of Zorb for my maternity pads.
  6. Fleece top layer. This is the layer that will be next to the skin so it makes sense for it to be nice & soft and absorbent.
  7. Press studs. I bought a kit through Amazon.

Trace and cut your pattern pieces. Place the absorbent layers over the wrong side of your top fleece layer and pin in place while you stitch around the outer edge of the absorbent layer.

Next, place the outer fabric on top, right sides together and then place the waterproof layer underneath and pin along the outer edge. Make sure you don’t pin the middle of waterproof layer – it’ll make it less effective! Stick to the edges… and stitch in place, leaving a gap so you can turn the pad inside out.

Where the gap is, keep the fleece and waterproof layers together and separate the fleece and patterned/outer layers from each other. Make sure it is fully turned to the edges.

Return to the gap you left for turning and gently fold the edges inwards, matching the rest of the pad. Top sew along the entire outer edge.

Fold the wings over one another, as they would sit when the pad is in use, and place the press studs accordingly.

Generally cloth pads should always be washed with detergent only, no fabric softener as that will reduce the absorbency. I know some people who like to throw their used pads straight into the washing machine and I also know some people who prefer to rinse them off with cold water first – I think there are 2 deciding factors here: flow and squeamishness… there’s no right answer, just go with what works for you. Some people say it’s okay to tumble dry PUL on a low heat, personally I wouldn’t risk it though… I always prefer to air dry anyway.

Ways to go zero waste in the bathroom

Before making the switch to going zero waste in the bathroom, I first let all the empty soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles pile up. I also left the toothpaste tubes, disposable razors and loo roll tubes in that pile too. Why did I let all our bathroom waste pile up? Well I wanted to get a gauge on just how much waste we were both actually creating in this one room of the house… was it really going to be worth the effort of going zero waste? The answer was a big fat YES!!! That pile was so disgusting to look at I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of it. I just had to get rid of it as quickly as possible. In fact I had planned to let the pile build up for a year, but 3 months was all my sanity could take. I am truly sickened by how much rubbish was being created and thrown out by just the 2 of us in such a short space of time.

Now I should point out that my bathroom is not yet completely zero waste, but I have significantly reduced the amount of waste we produce. Here’s how:

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The very first thing I did was buy an old school razor, shaving soap and brush. I remember watching my Grandad shave as a child and I’ve always secretly wanted a set like his, but I bought into the marketing… ladies’ razors were specially designed to fit the contours of the legs, never mind that it looks identical to the men’s razors, they are very different, honest! Look, it even as a soft feminine name like ’embrace’… The truth is that the razors ARE the same, they change the names and the colours but that’s about it. The whole razor is made from plastic, minus the actual blades, which are encased in a plastic housing requiring the whole head to be replaced regularly. I’m not even going to get started on the cans of shaving cream! So, the alternative to shaving with disposables is to go old school! I got my set from The English Shaving Company. There is only a single blade that needs to be replaced rather than the whole head. The brush I went for is synthetic, although there are natural options available – at the time of purchase I was more concerned about it being a reusable item, not so much about it being natural. The soap I chose comes in a natural wooden bowl and refills are available (if you don’t fancy making your own). A little while later Paul (my husband) decided to join me in using a reusable razor – he opted for a shavette razor, which is like the old cut-throat razors but instead of being sharpened, it uses the same sort of blade that my safety razor uses… we share the shaving soap and brush.

I’ve already talked about my switch from tampons to a menstrual cup, which you can read about here. It was that switch that got me started on a zero waste lifestyle… so technically that was the first thing I did before changing up my shaving habits, but the safety razor was the first change I made with the specific goal of living zero waste in mind.

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I also started making my own soap. I was buying liquid hand soap and shower gel, both of which have now been replaced by bars of homemade soap… I was spending over £100 a year on liquid soap products, I now make my own for less than £10 a year. I know this one may be a little drastic for some people but there are other options available if you don’t fancy making them yourself. Lush have some utterly amazing soap bars available, packaging free! If liquid rather than bar soap is your thing, then you can also make your own from castille soap, or you can buy a huge bottle and decant some into soap dispenser bottles… not ideal, but it’s still better than buying lots of little plastic bottles.

In my last post I talked about how I bought 5 litre bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Before this I tried using my homemade soap bars to clean my hair. I’d read about going no-poo and knew there would be a transition period where my hair would feel grubby for a little while as the silicone coating from commercial conditioners started to break down, but the grubby feeling continued well beyond the transition period everyone else was reporting. I persevered a while longer, adding more vinegar and lemon juice into an acid rinse, but it didn’t help, I was starting to also get a soapy residue appearing on my hairbrush. I then realised the problem was the water quality in our area. Biggleswade is in quite a hard water area, which means the soap residue wasn’t being fully cleared out of my hair. I have to admit, I was really upset at the thought of having to go back to using shampoo… lathering up with who-knows how many chemicals, sending loads of individual plastic bottles to be recycled, spending sooo much money, leaving a silicone coating on my hair so that it “looks” healthy and of course there’s the harshness of the shampoo stripping all the goodness from the hair and scalp, which causes the body to secrete excess sebum (which makes the hair greasy) to compensate, making us wash our hair more often with the very same product that stripped the goodness away in the first place! I’m still not thrilled about it – can you tell?! I couldn’t carry on using just the soap by itself but Paul and I had agreed we wouldn’t make any big changes to the house, until it needs doing – no new kitchen until the cupboards start falling apart and no water softener until the boiler needs replacing for example. Instead I bought the large bottles of shampoo and conditioner by Faith In Nature. I have to admit, this stuff is expensive but it works a treat – my hair is soft shiny and smells divine! Whenever I stay up in Birmingham (at my in-laws’ house) I get to leave the shampoo and conditioner at home  in Biggleswade. The water quality in Birmingham is absolutely brilliant, I can use my homemade soap to clean my hair without any residue being left behind. My Grandad isn’t well at the moment and I’ve been living up in Birmingham for the last few weeks so I can help take care of him – thanks to the Faith In Nature conditioner actually conditioning my hair rather than just coating it, I’ve been able to use just soap and not have any grubby transition period. My hair is soft, shiny and a bit more tangled straight out of the shower, but that only takes a few extra seconds of brushing to sort. In theory not stripping the hair with shampoo means the body will eventually get back to normal and not produce as much sebum, meaning you’ll be able to go longer between washes… as a fitness instructor that doesn’t really work for me – I can sometimes need to wash the sweat from my hair 2 or 3 times a day. I would recommend everyone at least try giving soap/no-poo a go and see how you get on.

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I’ve also switched up my dental products. Before I was using a whitening toothpaste on my electric toothbrush and then using a tongue cleaner (which I’ve always done, it’s an Indian thing). The whitening toothpaste I was using also brought out a line of matching mouthwash and said it would enhance results, so of course I gave that a go for a while… To be honest, I changed things up a while ago and neither my dentist nor I can tell the difference. I first decided to try a manual toothbrush made from bamboo, rather than plastic – it can be composted once the bristles are worn, although we’re more likely to throw our ones on the fire as kindling. I’ve got nothing against the electric toothbrush, it just ran out of charge around the same time as I learned bamboo toothbrushes and I just haven’t bothered to charge it up again since. I also started making my own toothpaste. My first attempt at making toothpaste was effing awful, it just tasted revolting and was frankly unusable. I used up one more tube of shop-bought toothpaste and then decided to have another stab at making my own. This time I made a tooth powder and it is awesome! I made enough in one go to last me at least 6 months and it didn’t cost me a penny – I used ingredients I already had in the house. I still use my trusty old tongue cleaner but ditched the mouthwash a long time ago. Once you brush the plaque away from your teeth and gently scrape the plaque from your tongue, mouthwash is entirely superfluous – give it a try, I promise your breath will not smell! And let’s face it, £2 for a tongue cleaner that will last a lifetime versus £4.99 for mouthwash that will last a month – surely that alone is enough to give it a go?! You’ll be able to pick up a tongue cleaner from any Indian housewares store or online. Although you’ll likely end up paying slightly more if you do buy online, it’s not going to break the bank. You may have noticed this part has all been about what I do, not what we do and that’s because Paul isn’t ready to make the switch yet, he’s still buying toothpaste for now, and that’s okay – going zero waste is something we all need to do, but some people are able to make changes quicker than others.

There is just one area left that was a source of a lot of waste – toilet paper! This is an area I’m really struggling with to be honest. There are paperless, reusable options available – you simply use a cloth to wipe then drop it into a bag which you then throw into the wash. In theory this is the ideal zero waste option (until someone can work out how to use the three seashells that is) but I just can’t quite bring myself to do it just yet… I can’t even give you a good reason for not being ready! For the time being then we’re still using traditional loo roll. I opted for Cheeky Panda toilet paper as it’s made from 100% bamboo. Bamboo is such a wonderful thing – it grows in a huge variety of climates and is actually a type of grass, rather than a tree. Bamboo also reaches full height in just 4 months so it’s far far more sustainable than chopping down a tree (even if you are planning on replanting 3). My only complaints are that its slightly more expensive than the stuff you’ll get in the supermarket (although not a massive cost difference) and it does still arrive in a plastic bag. I purchased this toilet paper on a subscription basis so once that’s up I’m going to look into other options – I really like the bamboo and recycled options packed in paper from Who Gives A Crap and will most likely purchase from there in the future instead – if I don’t have the balls to give the reusable cloth option a go by then that is!

I’ve mentioned a couple of things I make myself and I will post the relevant recipes in due course. Next week though, I’m starting my Christmas countdown! There have been soooo many times that I’ve seen something I would like to implement or create, but then its almost always too late for me to give it a go in time for Christmas, so I’m bringing my blog plans forward a bit to give you enough time to try out my ideas for yourself. Over the coming weeks I’ll be going through ways to do Christmas zero waste style, including some awesome gift ideas. First up will be ways to do a zero waste advent calendar… yep, there’s options for big kids too! Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss out.

It started with a cup…

…by which I mean my zero waste journey began with a cup. Still confused? Let me start by giving you a snap-shot of my what my life was like around a year ago…

I would wake up in the morning and take the dog, Grue, for a walk and use a nappy sack to pick up his poo – why a nappy sack? Because they’re a f**k load cheaper than buying doggie poop bags! After the walk I would go about my day, often buying bread knowing we would likely only get through half the loaf before it went mouldy. I would buy plastic bottles of milk, again knowing we probably wouldn’t get through all of it. I would also buy a plastic bag filled with potatoes, some of which were destined to turn green and start sprouting… and yet it didn’t occur to me at the time that I was wasting more money on rotting food than I was saving on poop bags!

So what does this have to do with a cup? Well, one day I was looking to mix up my regular workout a little and thought I might give aqua aerobics a go. The classes were on almost daily and were are extremely popular – The earliest class that had an open space was when I was due to be on day 2 of my next period (yes, this post is all about periods but this paragraph is probably the most graphic so skip ahead if you’re squeamish). Now for a lot of women that’s not a problem, just pop a fresh tampon in before you get in the pool and replace as soon as you get out – unfortunately day 2 tends to be my HEAVY day. I would typically need to use a max size tampon and would have to change it within 4 hours. But, I really really really wanted to give the class a try, so I hit the internet to see if anyone had come up with any alternatives and that’s then I discovered menstrual cups.

Menstrual cups, if you’re not aware, are typically made from medical grade silicone and are worn inside the body like you would a tampon, except instead of absorbing the flow, it gets collected and then emptied. They are reusable, lasting for up to 10 years, so are far kinder to the environment than their disposable counterpart and are generally kinder to the body – there’s no need to include a Toxic Shock Syndrome warning on the label and well, have you ever tried to remove a tampon too soon? You know, when it’s really painful and seems stuck to your insides to the point where the tampon itself appears to be breaking apart as you slowly wrench it out? That’s because the tampon actually IS stuck to your insides and has likely left some fibres behind on it’s way out. You see the tampon is designed to absorb, it’s doused in chemicals to make it even better at absorbing everything. It cannot distinguish between menstrual flow and natural vaginal discharge, which btw is how the body keeps the area clean and free of (certain) infections, so it soaks up everything remotely damp that it comes into contact with. So I decided to buy a cup, but then which one?

When buying a cup, there are sooooo many options – different shapes, sizes, colours. It was a little overwhelming at first. So, I took my time, did some research, stuck with my usual tampons and missed the aqua aerobics class in the meantime, and then I finally made a purchase. Why so many options? Well it’s because everyone is different. A woman’s age and whether or not she has given birth naturally will have an influence on the size/shape, having a high/low cervix will determine the length (or indeed absence) of a stem (which can be trimmed) for example. I may be skipping over quite a bit of important info here, so if you have any questions please leave a comment or drop me an email and I’ll happily respond.

Menstrual Cup

So the cup I went for was the Lumunu Moskito cup which I purchased from Amazon. I went for a small sized one with a stem. This one also came with a carry pouch for when not in use, a bamboo brush to clean it with and a sachet of lubricant. The second day of my next period I had to travel to London for the weekend and was really paranoid about putting the cup in wrong and leaking everywhere, and yes I know I should have stuck with the tampons for yet another cycle, but instead of taking the sane option, I put in the cup and then stuck a pad onto my underpants and off I went to become a Bodycombat instructor.

What I learnt on that first cycle was that I could now go 8 hours on my heaviest day without leaking (that’s double the time I could get from a tampon). I also learnt that removing (and to an extent inserting) a cup requires patience and practice – and you will more than likely make a mess whilst developing the correct technique (I had pretty much mastered it by the end of the second period). I also spent my train journey home working out that by using the cup instead of tampons (based on my average usage) I would save almost £800 over the 10 year period some cups claim to last for. For the record, I did not leak so the pad was thankfully superfluous.

It was also on my way home that I was telling my friend all about my cup-based adventure and she was very curious, especially with regards to the environmental and financial benefits, but confessed to preferring pads over tampons. I figured there must be an eco friendly pad alternative too, so I hit the internet again and discovered cloth pads. It is only a 30-40 minute train journey from central London to Biggleswade so I left it there for the day and continued my search the following day.

Whilst looking into reusable cloth pads I discovered each disposable pad contains as much plastic as 4 carrier bags and are also doused in chemicals aimed at increasing absorbency. I also came across a statistic saying the average woman will get through roughly 17000 sanitary products during her reproductive years (I’ll link to this stat when I find it again).

I was utterly shocked by this and immediately shared the info with my friend and sent her some links to places where she could purchase some cloth pads. Disposable pads are cheaper than tampons and a full set of cloth pads will likely cost as much (or more) than a cup, plus each will only last for 3-5 years, however my friend and I worked out that over 3 years she would still be saving around £250 – not to mention having less waste going to landfill.

It was around this time that I discovered many girls/women around the world are having to miss out on their education/work because they are unable to afford any sanitary protection. I resolved to start making some pads to ship out but I’ll save that for another post. Instead, I’ll leave you with the news that I have since been able to go along to some amazing aqua aerobics classes and my periods are actually shorter, lighter and pain-free now (can’t say for certain if it is because of the cup, just pointing out the correlation); and more importantly, my friend’s pads arrived just as her period finished but she has been unable to use them at all as she’s expecting a baby girl any day now!

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