The problem with modern-day conveniences is that we have forgotten what our ancestors did to take care of feminine needs. Onething we all know is that women are complicated, but most survival blogs are geared to the general population, without the concerns of women. Women have specific needs, and provide specific roles that only women can do. If a family is preparing for long-term survival, then look at the members of your family to decide what needs they will have.
I am a Registered Nurse, and I work as a School Nurse. This career has made me realize how most families do not prepare girls for their first menses in a normal setting, much less in a survival setting. Girls don’t like talking about their periods, they seem embarrassed about the fact that they have to deal with something so natural. During SHTF situations, they will need to know how to deal with this. So this is a topic that needs to be important to not only females, but the males if they have a female in their group.
Anyone that has had their basic health education classes knows that after girls hit puberty they usually have a menses unless they become pregnant or they reach menopause. Some changes in stress and nutrition can temporarily halt periods, but menstruation usually happens monthly to prepare the body for pregnancy. The uterus will shed its lining if no pregnancy happens, and begin the process again. What does this mean for surviving long term? In a situation where society is no longer functioning the way we have grown accustomed to (SHTF situation), how will women stay clean during their period? Modern-day tampons and pads are only going to last for one use, and would need to be in a sealed leakproof container for long-term storage. This will prevent any water getting into the product (by flooding or leaking pipes, or leaking roofs), and will also prevent rodents or pests from getting into them.
Disposable products would need to be disposed of after use. This is not something we typically think of on a normal day-to-day basis, but when SHTF our trash can cause issues. Trash also becomes a security threat for the community. If an outside person is looking through your trash pile, they can gather a lot of information about your compound. The most important detail would be what type of stockpile you have, and what you are using. But as far as feminine hygiene products, they can determine that women live in the compound, and they can also determine the woman’s fertility cycle from this information. This may not mean much to you, but if you think in regards to how Vikings and Mongols used to conquer lands by raping and pillaging places. Trash gives people clues on who lives at your compound, and depending on how long they are collecting data, can also determine how many fertile females you have in the compound. This seems a little far-fetched for now, but if a long term survival situation occurred, it is important not to give them free clues in your trash.
How do you prevent a buildup of trash? As far as disposable products, and the material, these may need to be burned, or buried to prevent rodents or other animals from getting them. Cotton tampons with no chemicals or synthetic materials can be composted, which will take approximately 6 months to decompose. I would not use this compost in gardens that are growing edible foods, even if there are no concerns of bloodborne pathogens from the user. Pads usually have some sort of plastic, and adhesive that adheres the pad to the underwear. They would need to be either buried or burned for disposal. However, for long-term survival and to eliminate trash, I would suggest not using disposable products.
Reusable products range from washable pads, sponges, menstrual cups/discs and other things. If a person does not have pre-made washable pads, they can look into history to inspire them on what devices to use to collect menstruation blood, women used to use old rags from clothes that are no longer wearable. You could look to nature to use to make pads, by using natural cotton, wool, moss, pith or cellulose from plants, animal fur and skins, and sea sponges to name a few.
Instead of waiting until the last minute trying to figure out what to use, there are things you can buy now. Menstrual sponges are currently available to buy, which hold up to 8 hours of blood, and can be washed and reused for 6-12 months. I would suggest buying reusable/washable pads, or period panties that collect blood and can be washed and reused. They are advertised to last up to 40 washes, which is apparently equivalent to 2 years, depending if it is just used by one person.
Menstrual cups and discs are more convenient to have for long-term survival situations. Benefits of using menstrual cups include the fact that it can hold up to 12 hours of discharge and be reused for up to 10 years with proper care. There are different sizes based on if the user had been pregnant before. These are more likely to survive longer than any other product, but women will need to learn how to properly insert and remove the cup. I don’t think they would be good for a young girl who just had their first menses. Cups and discs should be sanitized before and after each period by boiling them in water for 4-5 minutes.
The user needs to clean the cup or disc at least once every 12 hours (usually rinsing with water and a mild soap that is oil free and unscented). It is recommended to rinse the cup out with potable water when you empty out the cup. Make sure you empty the cup or disc out at least every 12 hours. If the cup or disc becomes discolored, you can put in direct sunlight for a few hours (this is called sunning) to lift the stains. If hygiene steps are skipped, the user takes a chance of getting a vaginal infection, including bacterial or fungal infections, which would not be good in a SHTF scenario without normal access to medicines to treat.
To clean and maintain reusable pads and period underwear, after wearing the product, you will need to rinse out with cold water until the water runs clear. You could use non potable water for the rinse water, it is also important to not wash your clothes directly in your drinking water source. After rinsing them, you can put them in a laundry bag, wet bag, or container until you have enough to wash a load of laundry. Just make sure they do not sit long enough to mildew. To wash them, you will need to use cool or warm water and mild detergent to wash. If you do not have laundry detergent, you can use oil free bar soaps, mild lye soap, or make soap/laundry detergent from natural ingredients that contain saponins. Saponins can be found in several natural ingredients, for an example:
- Yucca root
- English Ivy leaves
- Mountain Lilac blossoms
- Bracken fern roots,
- Baby’s Breath roots.
These natural ingredients will not only help with laundry but also help with normal hygiene products, if you run out of soap. It is best to not use bleach or vinegar while washing reusable pads or period panties. Do not use any fabric softeners or dryer sheets, because they will cause the products to not absorb liquids, which is their main purpose. It is recommended to hang to dry, even if you have a working dryer, to prevent the heat from breaking down the material that prevents leaking. Sunning the products will help to kill bacteria or fungus and help lift stains. Do not use creams, oil-based products that would get on the product directly while wearing them, because this can also affect the absorption of fluids.
Proper hygiene is very important all the time and will be especially important during a SHTF situation. Looking back at recommendations from Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis and Nurse Florence Nightingale in the 1800s, hand washing is the key element to prevent infections. Soap and water will be a key element in keeping individuals healthy. Bathing should be done at least weekly, but if you can bathe at least daily, that would be ideal. Keeping clean may not be a very important factor when it comes to having a period, but it is crucial for the overall health of women. Bacteria that can live on the skin, includes staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria, which are also the same bacteria that cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). It is important to wash your hands before and after you change feminine products, and to try to keep the vagina clean. Other important things to consider include:
- You should try to change your underwear at least daily, because bacteria and fungus thrive in moist environments, so this is added protection to prevent an outbreak.
- It is important to wipe from front to back to prevent fecal matter getting into the vagina, and to make sure you use clean wipes when you do go, and not re-use wipes after relieving yourself.
- Try to keep from having any “open wounds” caused by scrapes or tears in the vaginal wall, which would allow the bacteria to enter the body.
- Wounds could be caused by removing a dry tampon, scratching yourself by accident by your fingernail while trying to put in a tampon.
- Disposable tampons should not be used longer than what the manufacturer recommends on the box, or earlier if saturated. I would also not recommend using a tampon that had been exposed to the environment long prior to use (ie, if it had gotten wet in storage, dirt, or rodents eating off the outside plastic).
Not following these guidelines can increase the risk of getting TSS, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. If a person has ever had TSS previously, it is not recommended for them to wear tampons, and make sure they change their pad often.
Things happen, and being prepared is the only way to try to stay one step ahead of the scenario. Unless your bug out location has a laboratory, and medications available, it will be hard to treat different ailments that can plague women. Vaginal infections can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, odor, pain/itching/burning sensation, bleeding or spotting, redness or swelling. Having a supply of antibiotics and antifungal medications on stock would not only be beneficial for females, but all members of the family. Some medications and supplements you should have in your supply for infections would include:
- boric acid suppositories
- apple cider vinegar
- tea tree oil
- coconut oil
Foods that are probiotic:
I would recommend having a hardback medical/physician manual that you can use as reference in what medications to take for specific ailments.
Menstrual cycles can cause painful cramping. This can interfere with daily tasks that will need to be done to keep a household running during a SHTF. If your family or community has a big supply of acetaminophen or NSAIDs like Ibuprofen or Naproxen available, the menstruating female can use this. If you do not have a large supply, basic things like using heat to help relieve cramps will be beneficial. Pycnogenol can be used for menstrual cramps, it is a natural compound of chemicals found in:
- certain pine tree bark
- peanut skins (the red skin around the nuts)
- grape seeds
- witch hazel bark
- Green and black tea
Some herbs and medicines can also help with menopausal symptoms.
Direct heat can help relieve cramps. You will need to be able to heat water and put it into a closed container (either a hot water bottle or even a mason jar with a towel wrapped around it) and apply to the lower abdomen to relieve cramping. Regular exercise and daily intake of vitamins can make cramps not as painful during menstrual cycles. Natural remedies can be used to alleviate cramps. While I am not an expert in herbs, I do have a collection of books to reference in case of a SHTF situation, I would suggest you do the same. Find a reputable herbalist instructional book to have for all your medical needs, including feminine needs during a SHTF situation. Just to highlight some supplements for menstrual cramp relief would include things like:
- corn silks
This article just touches on the basics of female hygiene practices and products to use during those times. This is not the only thing you should reference when you are planning on a SHTF scenario with females in your community. But this will help you think about what you may not have addressed in your bug-out supplies.