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Dealing with Your Period in an Emergency

Life can be extremely unpredictable. Unfortunately, there is no pause button for your period when life gets turned upside down, even in a real disaster. This article will give you some ideas for managing your period, even in an emergency.

Dealing with Your Period in an Emergency: Tips and Strategies for Crisis Management

From blackouts, burst pipes, and travel delays to floods, earthquakes, and much, much worse—if your life is disrupted, you may very well have to adapt how you deal with your period.

Thinking about disasters may seem bleak, but there is a difference between “doomsday prepping” and being generally prepared for the unexpected. Knowing how to manage your period in an unusual situation and having extra period supplies at home are rational and practical precautions to take. Even if you never have to face a serious emergency, the ideas here will still likely come in handy at some point.

Having a realistic view

What is it like to face a real emergency?

Many of us tend to either romanticize the excitement or catastrophize the potential devastation of being overcome by a situation beyond our control. Menstruation doesn’t usually figure prominently in either of these imaginary scenarios. Of course, if you are actively fleeing immediate danger, bleeding through your clothes really doesn’t matter, but many disasters involve long periods of waiting and/or unexpected travel with no privacy in which to manage the less dignified aspects of being human.


Period Tracker & Calendar

You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now:
You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now:

One popular misconception is that when catastrophe strikes, women simply stop having their periods. Of course, that can happen in response to extreme long-term stress, malnutrition, or illness—the body can delay or suppress ovulation in certain situations—but you won’t skip a period because the power goes out or there is an earthquake. Why not take a few minutes to plan and prepare for managing menstruation in an emergency?

Access to period products and backups

If you have established routines for managing your period and you don’t suffer from heavy PMS symptoms, you may hardly notice your cycle in the bustle and abundance of modern life. But it will become much more noticeable if your life is disrupted by an emergency.

Those of us who live comfortably often are unaware that one of the most pressing problems faced by displaced and homeless women is lack of access to period products. Underprivileged women and girls worldwide deal with this problem every day. “Period poverty” is difficult and dehumanising and puts women and girls at an even higher risk of disease and discrimination.

If you don’t have a way to manage your period blood, it will stain your clothes, seep through to your surroundings, attract unwanted attention, and eventually add to your body odour. 

When you are an already in a stressful situation, you don’t want additional problems that may increase the risk of infection and even evoke unnecessary discrimination against you.

All people who menstruate, including the young girl having her very first period during a crisis, can use some help navigating these situations. Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to prepare for managing your period, even in unusual circumstances.

The basics

The most important considerations for managing you period in an emergency are:

  • Are my period products clean and sterile for use? Do I have enough?
  • Will I be able to wash my hands properly before changing my tampon or period cup?
  • Can I properly wash and sterilize reusable period products?
  • Where can I safely dispose of used products and where does that waste end up?
  • How can I deal with leaks?

Always wash your hands to the best of your ability—preferably with soap and water—before inserting and removing period products.

Boiling is the go-to method for sterilizing reusable period cups, pads, and panties

If a pot or saucepan is available to use for sterilization only, that can be a helpful extra precaution.

Sterilizing Reusable Period Products: Boiling Method Explained

Is there a magic solution?

No. The answer is to be familiar with your options and to keep some extra supplies on hand.

The pros and cons of period cups

Period cups are a great invention! They are a practical and sustainable way of managing period blood over the long term. There is little waste involved in the use of this product, and because you can use a cup for up to 12 hours before it needs to be emptied, managing your period will be a minimal distraction in an emergency. If you have a heavy flow day or a heavy flow in general, you will probably need to empty your cup sooner, but you still don’t need to carry disposable pads with you at all times.

As long as you have the facilities to boil the cup before and after each period to make it sterile and safe to store and use again, this is a great way to go. However, if you don’t have access to water, sterilization becomes more difficult and if you can’t wash your hands before emptying your cup (or replacing your tampon) you run the risk of vaginal infection. Any bacteria or yeast present on your hands—and they are pretty much always present, no matter how clean the environment—will grow and multiply in menstrual blood.

If you aren’t already comfortable using a period cup, you probably don’t want to start in the middle of a crisis if you have other options. Although there isn’t much to it once you know how, learning to insert, remove, clean, and sterilize the cup can take some getting used to. And because bodies come in different shapes and sizes, you might need to try several cups before you find one that fits comfortably.

Having options

Even if you do use a menstrual cup, pads (aka sanitary napkins) might be preferable in the short-term when you need to manage a period in unexpected circumstances, especially if you don’t have access to water.

And if you usually use pads or tampons, it might be a good idea to try the cup—learn the basics and keep one in the cupboard as a backup for when you run out of what you usually use.

A set of period panties is probably the most comfortable low-waste solution for low to moderate flow period management if you have the means to wash them. If your flow is heavy, period panties can be combined with a reusable pad or a menstrual cup for extra protection against leaks.

Never reuse single-use period products or reusable products if they haven’t been properly washed! This should go without saying, but too often we imagine that problems only happen to other people…

Even if you don’t use period panties, many people find that having a set of underwear you use only for your period makes it easier to keep the rest of your underwear clean. Once shark week is over you can give your period underwear a proper cold-water wash, so they are ready to use again next month. (You can wash bloody clothes in hot water, but the stains will be “cooked in” and pretty much impossible to get rid of later.)


DIY period management

With the wide array of period products now available—from pads and tampons to period cups and hormone injections—it can be easy to forget that just a few decades ago almost none of these conveniences existed, and that millions of women worldwide still don’t have access to them.

When contributing to donation boxes for refugees, homeless people, children in the foster system, and others in need, be sure to include pads and tampons.

Without access to modern period products, old-school improvisation is the only option. If it happens to you, channel that inner teenager whose period started unexpectedly in school and see where your ingenious mind takes you!

You can use any absorbent material, as long as it is clean:

  • Folded or layered strips of fabric, cloth towels, or cloth napkins
  • Paper towels, paper napkins, or toilet paper
  • An old T-shirt, second pair of underwear, or some other piece of clothing you can fold and secure in place
  • Multiple panty liners, a diaper, or an incontinence pad
  • Craft wool or felt
  • Bandages

More DIY

To find out more about alternative methods of managing your period, ask your mother or grandmother what she used back in the day. They might have some old-school cloth pads and period belts (used to keep the pads in place) tucked away somewhere.

You can try sewing your own reusable pads! The outer layer—what you will feel against your skin—should be made from a natural, breathable fabric such as cotton or cotton flannel; easily washable materials such as fleece, flannel, or heavyweight cotton blends are best for the absorbent layers inside. Your design should probably include some method of securing the pad in place, such as wrap-around wings that can be fastened with a small snap, hook, or button.

If you are in the great outdoors, take inspiration from medieval women and use moss. Sphagnum cymbifolium, or peat moss, can be found in throughout the Northern hemisphere and in some parts of the Southern hemisphere in dense clumps or floating mats in bogs, fens, and swamps, and around ponds and lakes. Sphagnum moss is naturally absorbent and was often used in the past to staunch blood on the battlefield or to manage Aunt Flo. Using just any old leaves, however, is not a good idea: they are not particularly absorbent, may carry infectious yeast or bacteria, and might even cause an allergic reaction if you are unlucky.

If nothing more practical is available, freebleeding is not the end of the world. Wear several thick layers below and wrap something around your waist for extra protection during the day; at night use something washable or disposable to absorb leaks while you sleep. Wash blood-stained clothes and underwear in clean, cold water and let your underwear dry completely before wearing it again.

Hormonal birth control and other medications

Periods entail more than just the visible part.

If you use a hormonal medication to control your period, make sure your prescription is current and keep an extra package or two on hand (if your prescription allows) for unexpected short-term disruptions; then you can stay on schedule even if you have to relocate because of, say, a tornado. If a serious disaster disrupts life for a longer period, you will probably lose access to that medication for some time. Ask your doctor what measures to take if that happens.

If you take medications for PMS or other menstruation-related symptoms such as headaches, cramps, or constipation, keep a reasonable quantity of each one at home. What is reasonable will depend on the shelf-life of the medicine and how often you take it. Many common over-the-counter medications last for several years before they expire, so an extra bottle for emergencies is plenty. (Remember, hoarding often leads to useless, expired gear that you can’t find anyway. Keep it real.)

Don’t use any medicine that has expired. At best it will be less effective, at worst it may do real harm.

Do not hoard any kind of medication and never use tampered or expired medicines.

The checklist

A short list of period products that would be useful to have in an emergency includes:

  • Several spare, sealed packages of sanitary pads and tampons
  • 3–5 period panties and/or reusable pads
  • A period cup (if you are comfortable using one)
  • Extra underwear
  • Mild, fragrance-free soap for washing your hands, genital area, and period cup
  • Laundry soap for washing clothes, pads, and underwear
  • Medications for PMS symptoms and reproductive health
  • A separate cloth or plastic bag to store reusable period products until they can be washed
  • Small plastic bags for period waste

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