Girls on tour - Periods and contraception
Most women cycle when they have their period (cue the 90's tampax advert with the girls roller skating along the seafront) but everyone is different and it depends on you and your body, sometimes you just don't feel like cycling.
If your periods are normally an issue for you, then you may want to see your doctor before you go, to avoid an unenjoyable cycle tour.
Here are some thoughts on cycling, tampons, moon cups and contraception...
"I don't mind cycling with my period as long as I don't get cramps that painkillers can't handle. Bizarrely I tend to get my period more frequently when I am cycling a lot and doing more exercise." Susie
"I have found that my period is lighter when I cycle and cramps are less when I cycle as well, so I actually prefer to cycle when I am on my period." Cindie
"Hmm... My first week on tour co-insided with my period. Something I didn't really expect to be much of a problem...Turns out to be the most painful week of my life! I'm not sure if I can wholly blame my period but I think it contributed to the overall problem. I have a Brooks leather saddle (which wasn't 'broken' in at that stage) and was hard to adjust to. So between the 5 days straight of hard cycling, humid temperatures, hard saddle, lycra and periods, my female health was suffering." Kate
I always remember my games teacher at school, Mrs Blackmore saying that exercise was the best thing you could do if you had cramps or period pain. I've always been lucky to have light periods so I am happy to cycle, but I do like to know that I can have a wash or shower at the end of the day.
What to use
Tampons are a popular choice of the women here... Cindie points out that, "in most countries women use pads and not tampons, so I carry a pretty good supply of tampons between large cities. I have always found tampons in the Embassy areas of countries". Nancy agree, "There were times when I carried lots of them as I knew I wouldn’t be able to find them again for many months."
"I tend to use tampons with applicators (not very environmentally friendly - but cardboard rather than plastic) as it is not always possible to wash your hands."
" I use tampons when I can find them. I don't like pads, they go all yuk in your bike shorts, then you're better off not using anything and washing your shorts real good at the end of a day..." Mirjam
Diva cups and moon cups are also very popular and are reusable. They are around two inches long, worn internally and made from soft silicone. Not only are they environmentally friendly, but you can be self-sufficient and not have to spend money on tampons and pads as you travel.
"I have a Diva Cup and I love it. I cannot imagine a life without one - on the road, or at home!" Tara
"I typically use tampons but will probably buy a Diva cup for our long tour next year. While I’m breastfeeding, I don’t have this issue so I hope to breastfeed as long as possible! "Heidi
"My period was never much of an issue, but I have to say that is one of the best parts of menopause!! I used tampons, but think I would have used one of the cups if I had known about them during that phase of my life. " Nancy
"I would be more upset if I lost my mooncup, than if my bike got stolen. It took me about 3 months to get used to it, but now I use it even when I'm not touring." Friedel
Before going long-distance cycle touring, you may want to consider seeing your GP to discuss contraception options. If you are cycling solo then carrying condoms might be the obvious option, however some contraceptive devices stop your period as well which may be a welcome option for cycling (of course you would still need to use condoms to stay safe).
Having taken the pill for years, I didn't really know what else was available, but I thought that carrying 2 years worth of pill packets across the world was a bit too bulky. I'm also not very good at remembering to take it when my daily routine changes, and if you have a stomach bug the pill is less effective.
So after some discussion, my doctor fitted an IMPLANON® under the skin of my left arm. It is a flexible plastic rod the size of a matchstick that releases a hormone called etonogestrel. It should stop your periods altogether (mine are light but they haven't stopped and can be pretty irregular). It lasts for 3 years and you can have it removed at any time.
Condoms are a popular choice for many and easy to buy in most parts of the world, so you don't need to carry anything. Many family planning clinics will give them to you free. Places like Cabbages and Condoms in Thailand give them away free with coffee, as a quirky alternative to after dinner mints!
Other options include a IUD (Intrauterine Device) or IUC (Intrauterine Contraceptive), this needs to be fitted by your doctor. Something like the ParaGard® is a simple T-shaped piece of soft, flexible plastic wrapped with natural copper. It's designed to fit comfortably in the uterus.
"I have a Paragard Copper T IUD. It is a simple, hormone-free device fitted into my uterus. It is great-- I never have to think about it, and it lasts for ten years before you’re supposed to replace it. I highly recommend it." Tara
It is also possible to have a contraceptive injection, where progestogen (hormone) is injected into a muscle and then is gradually released into the bloodstream. It works mainly by stopping ovulation (the release of the egg from the ovary). Depo-provera® is the brand used most often and it is given every 12 weeks. Noristerat® is another brand and it is given every 8 weeks.
None of the women we spoke to have tried this option so we have no feedback on the injection.
Whatever you decide, allow enough time before you go, to try some new and make sure it suits you. The last thing you want it to be hundreds of miles from home and decide that it's not working for you.