The True Cost of a Period
WUKA menstrual lifestyle expert shares guide to the physical, emotional, financial and environmental impact of periods.
We have come a long way in recent years – UK and worldwide – in addressing much of the stigma around menstruation and yet, the true cost of a period –not only financially speaking, but physically, emotionally and environmentally – is still underestimated in almost all societies.
In fact, just in terms of physical health, medical research falls into the same trap as other industries when placing men at the centre of studies, meaning women’s health is often a neglected second thought. Recent data shows that half of women have had their pain dismissed by a medical professional because of their gender, making it clear that the Gender Pain Gap is an ongoing phenomenon (1).
Ruby Raut, menstrual lifestyle expert at pioneering reusable period product brand, WUKA, says: “We are living through unprecedented times – trying to steer our way through a cost-of-living crisis, national food shortage, global climate crisis… The female population is also faced with having to navigate a healthcare system historically designed by men, for men, giving rise to huge gaps in our understanding of and education around female specific conditions such as endometriosis, PMDD, PCOS, menopause, and even general menstrual wellbeing (2).
“Having grown up in a world of period shame in rural Nepal and experienced the now illegal practice of Chapaudi – a form of menstrual taboo which prohibits women and girls from participating in day-to-day activities while menstruating as they are considered ‘impure’ – it’s clear how far we’ve come in the UK in tackling the taboo of periods. But menstruation comes at a great cost both to those experiencing it and to the planet, and as something that affects more than half of the global population every month for around half of a lifetime, it’s shocking that so many are still oblivious to the real challenges faced every day by menstruating people.
“The true cost of a period is a lot for women and girls to bear alone and requires much more investment on the part of governments and healthcare services to investigate and educate on women’s health, including the Gender Pain Gap, and do more to support and incentivise environmentally friendly fem care solutions.”
In a recent government survey, only 8% of respondents felt they had access to enough information on gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids, and only 17% felt they had access to enough information on more general menstrual wellbeing (3). This fundamental feeling of a lack of knowledge or access to information about menstruation can be extremely isolating and further the emotional burden suffered by those with gynecological health issues.
Read on for Ruby’s guide to the true physical, emotional, financial and environmental cost of a period…
To better understand the physical impact of a period, it’s important to understand the different stages of the menstrual cycle, and whilst everyone’s menstrual cycle is unique to them, all can be divided into two separate phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
The follicular phase includes menstruation and your periovulatory period, which helps your body prepare to ovulate (release an egg). Once you ovulate, you move into the luteal phase. The luteal phase is the transition to either supporting a pregnancy or starting a new cycle.
Changes in your body’s hormone levels before your period can cause physical (and emotional) changes known as PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or PMT (premenstrual tension). Physical symptoms include bloating, breast tenderness, acne, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, abdominal cramps, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue and trouble sleeping. All of which can quite significantly impact quality of life and cause you to feel unable to take part in your usual daily activities such as socialising with loved ones or participating in sport, and can lead to absence from school or work.
PMS and PMT also impact our emotional wellbeing, causing mood and behaviour-related symptoms such as irritability, difficulty focusing, anxiety, depression and anger – all of which can impact our relationships and ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
With women often having their pain dismissed this also leads to the pressure of having to keep going, despite being in physical distress. This suffering however is not just physical but also emotional. The mental strain of having to push through severe discomfort and navigate all aspects of life (work, socialising, parenting and family obligations) whilst pretending nothing is wrong is a hard burden to bear.
A more severe condition, suffered by around 8% of women in the UK, is PMDD or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (4). PMDD is an extremely severe form of premenstrual syndrome that causes a range of emotional and physical symptoms during the week or two before your period. It can be severely debilitating making it difficult to work, socialise and have healthy relationships and in some cases, can also lead to suicidal thoughts (5).
Cost can be a huge barrier to the accessibility of menstrual products for women and girls today, with many across the UK currently facing period poverty – a serious and growing issue thanks to price hikes and the cost of living crisis. Period poverty has an enormous knock-on effect, impacting education and livelihoods. As many as 137,700 UK school children miss school annually due to lack of access to period products (6).
The average woman who gets her period for 40 years will spend around £2,000 on tampons – money that could be spent on feeding or clothing themselves or their families.
A cost-efficient solution could be to invest in reusables. Although the initial outlay is bigger, in the longer term, reusable period product options will work out cheaper than using disposables. Period pants for example, are becoming more and more accessible and could save around £1,000 in a lifetime compared to using single use pads.
Multisize (or one size fits all) period wear options for growing girls or those with changing bodies such as new mothers are also a way to harness further savings.
In the UK 200,000 tonnes of single-use plastic riddled pads and tampons are sent to landfill every single year, whilst an additional two billion menstrual products are flushed down Britain’s toilets annually. Not to mention the carbon footprint of period products – a year’s worth of pads and tampons produces 8.9kg of CO2 emissions per person; that’s the same as charging a mobile phone more than 1,000 times.
In the midst of a climate crisis it has never been so important for everyone to consider the personal changes they can make to lead more environmentally friendly lives.
The menstruating population can easily enjoy a more environmentally friendly period simply by switching to reusable period products. Just one pair of reusable period pants can save 200 single-use plastic riddled disposables from polluting our oceans or going to landfill and will reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by 6 times if ditching pads and 4 times if switching from tampons (7).
That’s not to say that the answer is as simple as switching to reusable period products; it’s also important to consider the materials they are made from. For example, conventional cotton production uses insecticides and herbicides which are washed out of soils, polluting our rivers and damaging the environment – not to mention the vast amounts of water required for irrigation when farming cotton.
To make a real impact, it’s important to opt for more environmentally friendly and sustainable materials – GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) Organic Cotton, Tencel (an eco-friendly fabric made from responsibly sourced wood pulp and that is both biodegradable and compostable), and recycled fabrics like Nylon produced from ocean waste.
For more information visit wuka.co.uk.
Note to editors:
- (1) GPG Index Survey References Document (26.08.2022 16.00 GMT)
- (2) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/womens-health-strategy-for-england/womens-health-strategy-for-england
- (3) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/womens-health-strategy-for-england/womens-health-strategy-for-england#menstrual-health-and-gynaecological-conditions
- (4) https://www.pms.org.uk/about-pms/#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%20as,around%20800%2C000%20in%20the%20UK
- (5) https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder-pmdd/about-pmdd/
- (6) https://www.rcn.org.uk/clinical-topics/Womens-health/Promoting-menstrual-wellbeing/Period-poverty
- (7) 2022 WUKA, Carbon Footprint of Menstrual Products report
- WUKA Co-Founder, Ruby Raut, is available for interview
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- For more information on WUKA, visit www.wuka.co.uk
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Founded in 2017 by husband and wife team, Ruby Raut and Dave Slocombe, WUKA is the UK’s leading period wear brand and was the first in the UK to produce fully leak-proof reusable period underwear that completely replaces the need for pads and tampons. Just one pair of WUKA period pants can save 200 single-use plastic-riddled disposables from going to landfill or polluting our oceans.
WUKA stands for Wake Up Kick Ass; because nothing should hold women back when on their period. The brand strives to empower the menstruating population, improve access to quality, sustainable period products, eliminate period poverty, and remove period shame and stigma.
Offering a range of award-winning undies to suit different menstrual flows, WUKA period pants hold from two to six tampons worth of period blood; the highest absorbency of any other period products. They are also available in the most extensive range of sizes on the market – from XXS, right up to 6XL.
WUKA also offers period leggings, period sports shorts, period swim bikini briefs, and a number of period accessories and gifts, including a wearable hot water bottle, wash bags, period wellness sets, and starter kits for tweens and teens.
All WUKA products are mindfully created, using the highest quality planet-friendly fabrics, to be both great for the body and good for the environment. From the Better Cotton Initiative, Organic Certified, to Vegan, PETA approved and certified Carbon Neutral+, WUKA underwear is all accredited and designed with the future in mind. Equality, inclusivity, and social & environmental responsibility are at the heart of everything WUKA does.
WUKA is available in Morrisons, Superdrug, Planet Organic, Urban Outfitters, and a range of independent zero waste and fashion retailers. You can also purchase WUKA products direct from the WUKA website.
Follow WUKA on Instagram: @wukawear