Helping Your Teenage Daughter Choose Reusable Menstrual Products

Teen Girl with family

You cloth diaper your baby, use reusable products throughout your house, and you’ve tried to create a more sustainable lifestyle for your children. They will begin to make their own choices at some point. When you’ve directly modeled an action and they understand how easy it is (like washing kitchen towels), or when it just doesn’t occur to them that there is another way to live (like cooking meals from scratch), they will probably follow your choices to a great extent.

What will happen when they don’t have a direct model, though? What will happen when they don’t want to talk about their choices? What will happen when reusable products make your child stand out among peers?

What will happen when your daughter reaches menarche (her first period)?

For those who think this is far, far in the future, if your little girl is six years old and you find yourself surprised by that, just know that twelve will sneak up just as fast. It helps to think through now what you will do to help your daughter become familiar with her body and her options for menstrual products.


Create Familiarity

Creating familiarity was my strategy. My daughter (and everyone else in my house) knows that I use cloth pads. It’s just part of our life and not hidden or whispered about. Some of us grew up in households where the natural functioning of our bodies was not a welcome topic. If that was the case with the family you grew up in, you have the power to change that with your growing family. If your daughter is comfortable asking you questions about your period, she will be more comfortable asking you about her own period.

My daughter is generally quite private. Despite my efforts to be the radically open parent (or maybe even because of them), my daughter hated talking about puberty. I persisted, but I wasn’t annoying. I tried to keep the door open and knock on that door occasionally as I could see that puberty was coming. She did ask questions, though, and I answered her questions as she asked them, so I knew it was working just to be available.

I told my daughter how we handled potty training. When she was a toddler, I showed her where there were underwear in her drawer in addition to diapers and explained how underwear work. One day, she told me she planned to wear the underwear all day, and she did. That was it. Potty trained.

When she was about twelve years old, we did the same with cloth pads.

I have a lot of cloth scraps in a rainbow of colors. My daughter chose a time when we were alone, and together we drew the shape of a basic cloth pad that snaps around the underwear with an extra layer in the center. We cut out half a dozen and sewed them. Then, she stuffed them into the back of a drawer so her brother would never see them.

For a long time, that was it. I occasionally knocked on the door and talked to her about changes, but I didn’t push too much. When the time came, she just used the pads on her own. By making sure that she had access to what she needed, I tried to be sure that she could be as private as she wanted to be.

That was not it with cloth pads, though.


Be Open to Options

My daughter is a dancer. She spends a lot of time in leotards and tights. The cloth pads were uncomfortable for her, but also she hated how bulky they were. “Please just let me use tampons,” she said. I asked her to trust me that we could find a way to use reusables, and she did.

We kept looking for better options. We did the research together. She was completely unwilling to use a menstrual cup, but she decided to try natural sponges. These actually worked really well, but she still needed some kind of pad, so she finally tried Lunapanties. These start with the same long oval as the Lunapads that snap around your underwear. Rather than being held in place on a pad with rickrack, though, they are held in place on underwear by tucking the pad under elastic. No extra bulk snapped around the underwear.

Basic Lunapads set

I tell you what my daughter chose not because it is the solution for every girl but because it was the solution that finally helped my daughter embrace reusable menstrual products. I adore Lunapads because they helped my daughter relax and stop worrying about accidents. My daughter washes her own sponges and puts her pads in the same bucket with mine for wash. She’s less sensitive about her brother knowing now. She’s comfortable talking with friends about what she uses. And, she’s committed to reusables.

In the end, what menstrual products my daughter would use was not my choice. I certainly tried to influence her choice, but I recognized that she would do whatever she wanted to do, so I tried to keep the pressure off and the conversation open. My low-level persistence in talking about it and my openness to hearing and trying to understand what wasn’t working for her paid off.

My advice to you cloth diapering mothers who think this choice is far in your future is to start now with the openness. You don’t need to talk about periods or cloth pads necessarily. Just learn how to hear what your daughter needs and answer her questions. Create a pattern of discussion as a foundation for later. If you can see that puberty is coming, inform yourself about the full range of options for reusable menstrual products and talk to your daughter about those options. I’ve known girls who loved choosing their own fabrics for pretty pads, but my daughter is far less interested in pretty. Figure out what is important not to teen girls in general but to your daughter specifically. Tell her why it is important to you that she choose a sustainable option, and she’ll probably be willing to follow your lead.

Image Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

DIY Reusable Kitchen Towels

Reusable Kitchen Towels

Reusable kitchen towels are nothing new at all, but I only recently saw on Pinterest towels that snap together to make them as convenient as paper towels. So, I made some.

A lot of my friends create Pinterest boards with titles like “Must Make” or “DIY for My House.” I don’t know a lot of people with time on their hands, though, and I’m one of them. You probably are, too. A DIY project has to really catch my interest to inspire me to get up and do it. This is so clever that I just had to sew my own kitchen towels. I thought you might find this one of those eco baby steps that is easy to take as well.


Make Your Own Kitchen Towels

As always, I recommend you use what you have on hand. I happened to have some Harmony Art organic cotton fabrics that I had yet to find a use for. My fabrics were a range of weights from heavy twill (like jeans) to thin plain weave (like sheets). I decided that it might be useful to have wipes available in different thicknesses, so I used all of the fabrics, giving each a different color of snaps and trim to make it easier to tell the difference between weights as I was reaching to clean up a spill. For the absorbent side, I used brushed French terry that was too flawed to use for clothes but was fine for towels.

What I did takes no special skill at all. If you can use a serger, you can make towels.

  • 1/3 yard each of 4 decorative, cotton fabrics at least 36″ wide (or use the same fabric for all)
  • 1 yard of absorbent, loopy fabric to do the dirty work – cotton terry or birdseye are perfect
  • Decorative thread (optional)
  • 24 4-part sets of snaps

Wash your fabric before you start. You don’t want to make beautiful towels only to have them shrink and distort after washing. Pre-shrink to avoid this. I also ironed my fabric to make sure I was cutting evenly.

Cut 12 11″ x 11″ squares of the decorative fabric and 12 more of the absorbent fabric. I also rounded the corners to make sewing really fast.

Match up the cut squares with the absorbent, loopy side out and the decorative side out if you are going to have decorative serging that shows. You can also put the absorbent and decorative sides in, if you plan to turn and top-stitch your towels. If you want to keep it simple, just serge.

Sew each towel together.

Place snaps—two male and two female on each. I had writing on mine, so I carefully paid attention to which side had which snaps so the writing would always go the same way.

Total time for 12 wipes: 40 minutes


But What If I’m Not Crafty?

If you don’t have time or you don’t sew, how about just buying cotton towels to ditch the paper towels? My mother-in-law still uses 40-year old diapers as kitchen towels. In my house, we have a stack of old prefolds that we use as dog cloths, since I can’t quite bring myself to put the used diapers in the kitchen. New cotton prefolds make great kitchen towels because they are very soft and absorbent.

That’s what you need for spills. Nothing fancy. Just a little cleverness and a lot of absorbency, and you have washable, reusable towels, and you won’t miss paper towels.

Following up on a couple of weeks of cloth diaper focus, I’m covering other reusable products you can easily introduce into your family’s routine. Last week, it was reusable sandwich bags and wraps then DIY reusable baby wipes last Tuesday. Do you have favorite reusable products that you use? Drop by the Parenting by Nature Facebook page and tell us about it.

Make Your Own Cloth Baby Wipes

Reusable cloth baby wipes

If you are working to replace throw-away products with reusable products, start with the simple things. When you are already cloth diapering, it’s easy to use reusable cloth wipes as well. Recycle and re-purpose what you have to make what you don’t have. I got so many baby washcloths at my baby showers the first time around that I repurposed them as wipes.

It’s quick and easy to make your own cloth baby wipes. All you need is:

  • Old or surplus wash cloths
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine

That’s it.

If you don’t have cloths, try old towels, sheets, worn flannel blankets. Look around to see what you have that you would like to renew or repurpose as baby wipes.

CUT

I find that 3.75" x 7.5" fits perfectly in a commercial wipes container. I usually cut them square, but it takes some sewing skill to turn a square corner well. If you don’t have that skill, round the corners and make your life easier.

Old washcloth
Cutting old washcloth into baby wipes
Cutting washcloth into baby wipes
Cutting round corners on baby wipes

 

SEW

Ideally, use a serger or overlocking machine. This makes a tough edging that can withstand a lot of washing.

If you don’t have a serger, you can zig zag the edge, either right on the edge (the quick and dirty way) or turning the edge first (longer lasting but harder to do).

Sewing edge of cloth baby wipes
Finishing edge of cloth baby wipes

 

FINISH

Sew in the end. If you just cut the threads, they will unravel. Trust me on this one!

Finished homemade cloth baby wipe
Sew end in into cloth baby wipes
Trim threads from cloth baby wipes
Finished homemade cloth baby wipe

 

Easy! Now you have a stack of your own homemade baby wipes. Start to finish (including the time it took to take photos) I spent 10 minutes making 4 wipes. If you get on a roll, you can easily make one wipe per minute.

While you are into DIY, make your own wipes solution. It’s very easy.


Basic Baby Wipes Solution Recipe

1 Tablespoon mild soap (baby shampoo or castile soap)
1 Tablespoon oil (calendula, almond, olive, or other carrier oil)
2-8 drops essential oil (tea tree for antibiotic properties or any for scent)
1 cup water

Start with what you have on hand rather than buying ingredients. Don’t make too much at once because it won’t last a long time. Plus, it’s nice to change the scent with each batch. I like to keep a spray bottle of the solution near the wipes and spray directly on each wipe as needed, but I also tried putting solution and wipes in a wipes warmer to avoid shocking the baby with cold wipes. See if you can get away with cold wipes before resorting to a warmer.

Following up on a couple of weeks of cloth diaper focus, I’m covering other reusable products you can easily introduce into your family’s routine. Last week, it was reusable sandwich bags and wraps. Next, it’s my favorite recent idea. I’m making a cool reusable product I saw on Pinterest and sharing the photos with you.

Stuff That Means You Buy Less Stuff

If I’m going to recommend buying stuff on a week dedicated to living more environmentally friendly lives, I have to have very tight rules—and I do.

Rules for inclusion on my list of best products for reducing the need for stuff:

  • Must be reusable. Must prevent buying and using more stuff by replacing something commonly thrown away.
  • Can’t just be super cool (like silicone popsicle molds, which are on the edge of necessary with a lot of children).

Bonuses:

  • Replaces a toxic or questionable conventional choice.
  • Makes life easier.

That said, there are a few products that lighten my footsteps.

Dryer Balls. If you want your tumble-dried clothes to be softer, you don’t need to add chemical softeners. You just need to flex the fibers. The fingers on dryer balls poke and prod your clothes into softness. Really, you don’t need a specific product for this purpose. Put an old hockey puck in a gym sock will do much the same thing.

If you worry about the loud banging that you get with a hockey puck (it is really loud) or you notice that your dryer starts to get little dents, you might find the dryer balls gentler on machine and clothes.

Wet Dry Bags. Wet bags have been around for a while, keeping many mothers from hauling home wet swimsuits or dirty diapers in plastic bags, but a wet/dry bag is a great new innovation that allows you to keep things together. One bag has two separate zippered sections to keep wet and dry separate.

The mini bag is the right size for reusable menstrual pads, so you can keep used and unused pads in the same bag. The medium bag is a great size for swimsuits and the larger bag for diapers. This seems such a logical progression, but it was just wonderfully surprising to me the first time I saw one of these bags in person. Very useful.

Stainless Steel Straws. One-time use products are such a waste. Suck down juice or water with a straw then goodbye straw. I tell my children that I don’t see the need for a straw, but my children seem quite attached to them. Really, with younger children straws prevent accidents.

If your family do like to drink with straws, reusable is the way to go. This also prevents more exposure to toxins that can be present in plastics. Stainless steel straws are very cool.

Obento Boxes. A lunch box or bag is not a new idea, but a surprising number of parents don’t send their children’s lunches in reusable containers. Any reusable bag or box is great. I especially like reusable sandwich wraps, which is yet another example of a new idea based on a very old idea.

My current recommendation, obento boxes, aren’t so much new as new to me and increasingly common. Among reusable lunch boxes, obento boxes are unique in that they don’t hold just any kind of food. Because of the long tradition of making obento box lunches interesting—art food, really—this particular container comes with encouragement to engage children. The laptop lunches system that Parenting by Nature sells even comes with a food ideas book. I’m quite sure that my Beatles lunch box came with no instructions.

No doubt there are a lot of interesting things to buy made out of lower-impact materials, but the first line of defense against the tyranny of stuff is to REDUCE.

  • Reduce your need,
  • Replace the stuff you use but might otherwise throwaway, then
  • Replace the stuff that is reusable but high-impact or just plain toxic.

Throughout March we will offer guides to getting started with some of the basic practices of attachment parenting and sustainable living. This is Environmental Living Week with tips, products, resources, and personal experiences.

Modeling the Value of Reusability

I have heard a lot of parents connect their cloth diaper use to the environment AS a gift to their babies. They choose to use resources wisely and prevent massive waste buildup because they don’t want to pass the problem on to their children and grandchildren.

In testimonials at the Real Diaper Association, hundreds of parents have written about “Why I Choose Cloth.” Over and over again parents talk about the long-term meaning of their choice to use cloth diapers.


Wouldn’t You Choose Cloth Diapers Anyway?

If you have a parenting choice to make and you find that it’s both better for babies and less expensive for parents, you wouldn’t hesitate to make that choice, right? Not always, and that confuses me.

Some people (no, I’m not naming names) say that cloth diapers are just too hard. They aren’t, of course. The changing is the same and washing is easy. Why this perception of difficulty?

Even if cloth diapering were more difficult to use than the throwaway alternatives, though, given that it’s better for babies and less expensive for parents, wouldn’t you choose it anyway?

I think about other choices that my family makes now that I didn’t necessarily grow up with: reusable shopping bags and recycling. Both of these are just part of our lives. Both of these practices teach our children valuable lessons. We keep a stack of reusable bags in the house and another in the truck of our car. If we shop, we bring our own bag. That isn’t as easy as not thinking ahead, but I don’t know that teaching children not to plan ahead is the message we want to send. It probably was easier to throw all of our garbage into a bag and forget it, but I can’t say that I find the alternative difficult. We break down boxes, stack up papers, and set bottles and cans to the side. We just take our garbage out in a couple of different ways. We not only teach our children the value of recycling, but we let that lead to conversations about how to reduce the need to bring stuff into our house in the first place. Recycling and reusable bags and cloth diapers are all a little bit more difficult than putting the responsibility on someone else, but we’re teaching personal responsibility to our children. I don’t see the problem with taking 30 minutes a week to wash another load of laundry. It seems to me that it would be yet another teaching moment as we talk about values.


Modeling Values to the Sibling

If you are diapering a baby as an older child watches, every diaper change is an opportunity to model values. Explain why you choose cloth diapers. Explain what reusability and responsible resource use mean.

When my daughter used to watch me diaper her baby brother, I gave her a set of diapers for her dolls. Her dolls stayed in cloth diapers about as long as her brother did. She followed my example then articulated the reasons as she went along. Now, she understands why I remain a strong advocate for cloth diapers.

It’s tough to convince a child of the value of reusability and responsibility if we don’t model the values ourselves.