How Often Do I Need to Change Tampons or Pads During My Period?

Woman holding tampons
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Question: How Often Do I Need to Change Tampons or Pads During My Period?

Answer: This is a great question especially if you are new to this period thing.

Exactly how often you’ll need to change your tampons or pads depends on the heaviness or lightness of your menstrual flow. Tampons or sanitary pads/napkins require changing as often as necessary to prevent them from getting over-soaked with menstrual blood.

Once they become soaked they will not absorb any more menstrual blood and you will have a bit of a mess on your hands. And depending on where that happens it may be an embarrassing mess.

Know Your Flow

Likely the amount of your menstrual flow will vary each day during your period. Some days will be lighter and some days will be heavier.

It is a good idea to match your menstrual flow with the absorbency of your tampon or pad. This will also influence how often you need to change. Using a regular absorbency tampon or a light day sanitary napkin on a heavy flow day will have you in the bathroom constantly changing and at high risk of a messy accident. That’s not a good use of your time or your money!

Know The Limits

I think the real question here is, “How long is it safe to leave a tampon in or a sanitary pad on?”

Sanitary pads: 4-6 hours

Since pads are worn externally there is no significant health risk if you leave it on longer than 6 hours.

In fact, pads are a good option for overnight protection. With pads, it is even safe to use a thicker pad than needed for your flow so you have extra protection. The time limit for pads is mostly to avoid the odor generated from the blood and bacteria from your menstrual flow.

Tampons: 4-8 hours

Since tampons are worn internally, it is important to observe the 8-hour limit.

 By changing your tampon at least every 8 hours you will decrease your risk of developing a serious infection related to tampon use called TSS or toxic shock syndrome. Also, it is very important not to use a tampon that is more absorbent than needed. This is different than with pads where a little extra absorbency is a good thing. Too much absorbency in a tampon also increases your risk of developing TSS. Tip: Unsure how heavy your flow will be? Try using a panty liner with your tampon to avoid having to use a tampon with too much absorbency.

Interested in Longer Protection

Try using a menstrual cup. A menstrual cup can be left in place for up to 12 hours. Depending on your flow you may need to change it more frequently but it can safely be left in place for 12 hours a time.

Retained Tampon

When you put a tampon in it is always important to remember to remove it. The same is true for a menstrual cup. It is possible to forget to remove your tampon especially on the last day of your period when the bleeding is very light.

A retained tampon will cause a foul odor often accompanied by a brownish discharge. This can lead to a serious infection. If you develop these symptoms or have any other concerns about your period you should discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Updated Andrea Chisholm M.D.

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