Endometriosis and the role of period underwear

  • Health
  • October 8, 2021

Endometriosis (endo) is a common disease that can cause severe pain and fertility issues in women, and often goes undiagnosed for many years. One of the hallmarks of endo is painful and heavy periods and many women also find it too uncomfortable to use period cups or tampons for some, or all, of their cycle.

We speak to Endo Help‘s Kat Stanley about the physical and mental benefits for women with endo incorporating different products, such as reusable period briefs into their period routine, and answer some FAQs.

WHAT PERIOD PRODUCTS DO WOMEN WITH ENDO GENERALLY GRAVITATE TOWARDS?

A lot of women with endo can’t use tampons or menstrual cups or if they can, not for every day of their cycle, depending on where they’re at, and what their pain level is like. They also may not use them because their periods are so heavy that they are worried about ‘flooding’.

For the first few days of my cycle, I would bleed through a maternity pad within an hour, and no period product would have helped me. But after those three days, my period flow would be back to normal. I would still wear pads because tampons would hurt, and even if I could use a tampon, I’d put a pad underneath, just in case. At the time, period underwear didn’t exist, but it would have been so much nicer for me to use.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN WITH ENDO WHO ARE HESITANT TO TRY PERIOD UNDERWEAR FOR THE FIRST TIME?

Naturally, there can sometimes be resistance to changing your period products, because if you’re a person with a really heavy flow you’ll be a bit more nervous about trying something different, like period underwear. It’s worth incorporating and trying out different period products, to find what works for you, and what will make your period experience as comfortable as possible.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS FOR WOMEN WITH ENDO WEARING PERIOD UNDERWEAR?

Period underwear is another option for women with endo. It can be nice to wear something other than a pad, and period underwear doesn’t cause pain as tampons can.

Maybe it’s not possible for the first few days if your flow is really heavy, but women with endo can sometimes have incredibly long periods — they can even bleed for the full 28 days. Wearing reusable period underwear versus pads, when you have your period for such a long amount of time, is just a nicer, more economical and sustainable alternative.

Bloating is also an uncomfortable symptom of endo and can be particularly bad during your period. Period underwear with a waistband that doesn’t dig in, or one that sits below your bloating, provides a comfortable solution.

Science is also showing that exposure to plastics, chemicals and pesticides increases your chances of a whole range of health conditions and one of them is endometriosis, so organic cotton period briefs are not only reducing your environmental impact but your toxin load.

ARE THERE OTHER BENEFITS TO WEARING PERIOD UNDERWEAR?

Understanding that there is a place for Netflix and your hot water bottle, we often talk to women about the importance of staying active, for their physical and mental wellbeing, and to help with their pain. But as someone that couldn’t wear a tampon when I had my periods, there was nothing worse than going for a run, or even a brisk walk, and getting all hot and sweaty in a bulky pad.

Things are changing, but for women with endo, it’s this kind of taboo disease, and periods themselves are still a bit taboo — all of this adds to the stigma. One of the reasons I created a support group was to help women live well with endometriosis.

It’s about giving women back their confidence. Having your period might not be the greatest experience, but offering period products that help women with endo feel better in themselves, more confident to go out, and be more active, will help them live well with this disease.

YOU RUN A SUPPORT GROUP FOR WOMEN WITH ENDO. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON QUESTIONS THAT GET ASKED WHEN IT COMES TO PERIODS?

  • Do other people find it too painful to wear tampons when they have their period? Many women with endo find any penetration painful, particularly when they have their period, and thus can’t use tampons and menstrual cups.
  • Do people get pain a few days before their period? Many women with endo get pain in the days leading up to their period. The pain can vary from mild cramping to severe pain before menstruation.
  • Does anyone else get really heavy periods? Many women who attend our support group report very heavy menstrual bleeding. It is important that if your menstrual bleeding is heavy — if you are needing to change pads frequently, or to sleep on a towel at night due to heavy bleeding — that you talk to your health professional.
  • Does anyone else get back pain, and pain down the legs when they have their periods? Many people with endo experience pain in the back and down the legs during and around menstruation.

A Guide to TOM Organic Period Briefs

Benefits of period underwear for women with endometriosis

  • Made from soft, breathable organic cotton
  • Looks and feels like regular underwear
  • Four layers of protection against leaks
  • Less bulky than a pad
  • Cost-effective, eco-friendly option
  • An alternative to tampons and period cups

Tip: Women with endo often experience a much heavier period flow. We recommend trying our period briefs alongside our range of pads and liners to determine the level of period support you may need on different days of your cycle.

To learn more about our period briefs read our Period Underwear Guide. You can shop our range of period briefs here, or at your nearest Coles location.

Unsure if you have endometriosis? Read Do I Have Endometriosis

Kat Stanley is the director of Endo Help, a not-for-profit organisation which supports women, partners and families on their endo journey. She experienced severe pain for 17 years before she was diagnosed with endometriosis, as well as adenomyosis, a condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrial tissue) grows into the muscular wall of the uterus, causing an enlarged uterus and painful, heavy periods. Kat eventually had a hysterectomy and continues to support and educate women with endo through the foundation.