Remembering Dear Aunt Flow, by Kali

It is a reasonable assumption that most SurvivalBlog readers are already going to be in the preparedness mindset. Whether you’re preparing for a natural disaster, economic collapse, zombie apocalypse, or something in between you must always have each and every family member’s needs in mind. Most of us start with the ‘generic’ items that everyone needs such as water, food and standard medical supplies. While that is the absolute best starting place for all families, after the basics are accounted for you should then consider any unique or special needs that you may have to provide for. Many of us have groups we are planning for which often include extended family or close friends which are expected to show up if stuff starts going from bad to worse. Quite often those loved ones will arrive with little to no supplies of their own. Or perhaps you are just planning on hunkering down to ride out the ‘storm’ with your immediate family. Either way, if there’s even one woman of or near reproductive age expected to end up in your home or retreat, it is imperative that you do not forget to prep for Aunt Flow’s inevitable visit (aka a woman’s menstrual cycle).

Many sites have covered the multiple uses of tampons beyond the ‘traditional uses’, most notably and comically the Art of Manliness’ “Why yes, that is a tampon in my mouth” but not many ‘prepping lists’ on survival sites include them or if they do, it is a box here and there. There’s even plenty of urban legends about our military personnel carrying tampons in their med/survival kids (while this seemed hard for me to believe, one military member of my extended family who is a veteran of the Vietnam War insists that he knew some service members that carried them). With households where a male member is the one purchasing the family preparations, this very important item may be overlooked or significantly understocked depending on the time frame that the family is planning to be self-sufficient for.

Before I go further, it has been suggested to me before that, ‘women in the old days used an old cloth that they washed and reused’. While this is true, I would point out that toilet paper as we know it today is a relatively new invention. ‘Splinter free’ toilet paper was not even advertised until 1935!  Modern products are more sanitary and have their obvious advantages. As a family that has made the decision to start preparing to be self-sufficient should a crisis occur, the ‘old fashioned’ rag should only be considered a last resort. So if you’re stocking modern conveniences like toilet paper, there really is no good reason not to stock feminine products for the women in your life.

It is expected that many if not most males likely think that all tampons or menstrual pads are the same. While the concept is obviously consistent across all brands, the shapes and sizes are not. For example, some brands of tampons are longer which contrasts with other brands that are shorter but ‘flower’ out to make a bowl shape when in use. A woman’s body comes in different shapes and sizes thus most women will find a brand or style that works for them and stick with it. Not because of the name on the box, but because that product does the job effectively for that particular woman. There’s significant peace of mind that comes with being comfortable that the product you are using will be effective and not leak. Especially if the Schumer hits the fan, we may not be able to wear a fresh set of clothes every day or have the convenience of washing our clothes often, so not leaking will be priceless to the women in your life not to mention more hygienic.

I imagine that some readers at this point may have the blank ‘deer in headlights’ look. So where do you start?
Ideally the females in the household are involved in family preparations or are open to discussions so you can simply ask what brands/sizes/amounts they use each month. However, some women are not comfortable discussing these things as would likely be encountered with a family that includes a teenage daughter who is more concerned with social media than the end of the world as we know it. If this is the case, you may need to resort to more covert ninja-like tactics to obtain the necessary information. Your best bet will be to tear the top off of a box of products that she currently uses and go buy that particular brand/style.

Most women use different sizes of products depending on the point in the cycle since the flow ramps up and then back down. When looking at the boxes that they use, note the larger of the products and focus on that size when stockpiling. It is always better to have too much absorption than too little regardless of the point in the cycle. The larger size will also aid with the speed at which the products are used since they will not need to be changed as often during the lighter part of the cycle.

During a quick Internet search, I found a study that said 70% of women in North America use tampons monthly and will use an average of 11,000 tampons in a lifetime. So naturally the next question should be, how many of a particular item do you need to store. If the lady is not willing to discuss this matter with you, just watch the boxes as they get used each month and you’ll get an idea. Then do the math and add some padding (pun intended) to that number.

On average a woman has a 28 day menstrual cycle. She will be menstruating for 2-7 of those days and it is recommended to change the product every 4-8 hours. Again, every woman is different so just watch the usage of the products to get an idea.

If your family is on a budget and cannot afford the particular brand she uses to stock up on, then there are plenty of relatively inexpensive options at discount chain stores and also generic store brands. Any product will be better than no products when going to the store for a resupply is no longer an option. Make sure to check the big box stores and online retailers first for cost effectiveness. Like any item, watch for sales or coupons and stock up. If going the generic brand route, it would be best to have the woman test out the effectiveness of various store brands for reasons stated previously before making large purchases.

Keep in mind that while these products are paper based, their purpose is to absorb therefore they must be stored appropriately just like toilet paper or medical gauze. A cool dry place out of direct sunlight and humidity is required. If the products have become damp, it is best to just discard the products and replace.

The obvious problem with products such as menstrual pads and tampons is that they are disposable and the supply is finite. Therefore when the supply runs out, an old cloth may be the only option. There are, however, some alternatives to disposable pads/tampons.

Products exist that are reusable which are called menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are as old as modern applicator based tampons although they are not as popular. The most common menstrual cups on the market are medical grade and hypoallergenic silicone however latex cups do exist so those with sensitivity to latex should make note of the materials. These products have a suggested use-life of about 5-10 years and can hold significantly more liquid than a tampon so they do not need to be changed as often. When it is time to change them, simply boil to clean. Pretty easy. One of the most well known brands is the Diva Cup and you can buy them at most all grocery and drug stores. Menstrual cups do cost more than tampons or pads but since they are not one use/disposable they are more economical and pay for themselves after only a couple of months of usage. It needs to be noted that just like tampons, some women have good experiences with them while others find them uncomfortable. Some women even modify them by cutting off the extra ‘stem’. A plan to go this route really requires that a woman would need to test out various brands for themselves to determine the comfort and preference before a SHTF event requires usage.

Further alternatives are noteworthy such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) that have time released progesterone which act as a long term (5-10 years depending on brand) birth control and has a common side effect of reducing or eliminating the monthly menstrual cycle. However these options are beyond the scope of this article and should only be considered after significant research and consultation with a medical professional as everything comes with potential negative side effects.

The best part of prepping for ‘Aunt Flow’ is that she will always visit the ladies in your life even if the Schumer never hits the fan so the products will not go to waste. And if you really want to score extra ‘brownie points’, don’t forget the chocolate!