No matter where you are in the world, enlisting in the army as a female is a brave and tough decision. In countries like America, men outweigh the number of females enlisted, whereas in Israel, women have to join the army, so there is an equal balance of both genders.
Military duty doesn’t come easy for women. They have to be extremely athletic, maintain their fitness, and often carry heavy guns and backpacks. So, what happens when their menstrual cycles begin? This can’t be easy. How do they explain to their captains that they can’t go out on the field due to menstrual cramps and menstrual bleeding? The simple answer is, they unfortunately can’t. They are military women and have to go about their days as normal, no matter what female bodily pressure they are under.
This article delves into the best ways to handle menstrual cycles, or even apply a “pause button” for those brave women willing to put their lives out there for their countries.
Menstrual Cycle Mishaps on the Military Field
Before looking at solutions to the “problem,” let’s look at menstrual cycle mishaps that may occur:
- For unknown reasons, menstrual cycles may alter during deployment. This leads to worries about accidents, and embarrassing leaks. Nothing differentiates a military man to a military woman more than menstrual cycles on the field. An accidental leakage can not only be embarrassing but potentially dangerous, as the red color is more obvious to spot from opposing armies. Military outfits blend into the environment, and a big splash of red on a military woman’s pants really makes her stick out.
- During deployment, military women may not have easy access to tampons and sanitary pads.
- Riding in convoys for hours on end can be a problem for a number of reasons. Not only do menstrual cramps intensify when going over rough terrains and bumps, but tampons should not be left inside for a prolonged period due to the risk of toxic shock syndrome. Also, heavy pads full of blood can feel extraordinarily uncomfortable, and can really start to smell.
Solutions to Tampons and Sanitary Pads
Instead of having to rely on numerous tampons and sanitary pads, there are some other solutions that include neither. These are:
- Menstrual Cups
- Period Panties
Menstrual cups are great, as they can be left in for up to 12 hours, and are actually quite comfortable. They come in all different shapes and sizes. It’s best to try a “Starter Kit” that allows you to try out both the small and large sizes. The Venus Cup is a particularly good choice due to its capacity size, as it holds more menstrual fluid than most other menstrual cups out there.
What’s also great about menstrual cups, is that once they’re full, you just wash them under tap water and they’re safe to be placed inside again. They can always be used with panty liners or sanitary pads in case of any spillage. They’re also extremely cost effective, as menstrual cups only need to be replaced every 2 years.
What’s great about using them when deployed, is that all you have to do is insert yours in the morning when your period arrives. If it’s the first day of your period and you’re not bleeding heavy, you can literally leave it in from 6 am to 6 pm and not worry about it. For the next days of your period, when you’re bleeding heavy, you can empty it around noon, wash it, and put it back in.
Menstrual cups are also very comfortable to wear, while you have to do all your military duties. You can wear it while working out, or while driving in convoys, in tanks over bumpy terrain. It sits comfortably in the vagina. Tampons and sanitary pads also expire after a certain date while menstrual cups don’t. The Venus Cup is made of 100% medical Grade Silicon, and is BPA, phthalates, latex and toxin free.
Period panties work really well, as all the menstrual blood simply soaks into them. There are different sizes available, so on heavy days, you would wear the larger high waist sizes, whereas on “spotting” days, you can even wear the thongs. Flux Period Underwear is particularly good. They have been around for a long time and offer a range of different styles in many different sizes.
On the field, you could simply change your period panties, put them in your backpack, and slip on a pair of new ones. They also mask the scent of blood, so you don’t need to worry about the men around you picking up the scent of blood.
Suppression of Periods
Another option, of course, is to suppress periods all together. This way, you’ll know when your period will arrive, or you can stop it all together. This may be important during your time in the military, as long as you do it safely.
There are different types of birth control to suppress periods:
The Birth Control Pill
The birth control pill, or “the pill” as most women like to call it, contains two important hormones – estrogen and progesterone – and it prevents pregnancy by not allowing eggs to be released from the ovaries (this is referred to as ovulation). It also makes it difficult for sperm to get into the uterus by thickening the cervical mucus. Of course, for “the pill” to work effectively, it has to be taken at exactly the same time every single day, and this may be hard for some women in the army.
But, for those women able to swallow the pill at the same time every single day, their menstrual cycles become quite regular and bleeding occurs at the same time each month. Many women also find that their periods aren’t so heavy anymore when on the pill. “The pill” can also clear embarrassing issues such as excessive facial hair and acne, which is a plus for many women serving military duty with these predicaments.
The final week of “the pill” is the placebo week. This is when periods occur, as there are no hormones in these placebos, and the body sees it as a natural drop in progesterone levels, and therefore a period is brought on.
There is also the option of not getting a period at all by skipping the placebo pills and starting the “active” pills again for 21 days. This way the progesterone pills stabilize, and a period will not occur. This is a good option for military women who want to have more control over their periods. If the pill is stopped for 5 days, a period will occur. However, the pill must be restarted within 7 days of stopping so that it can be used as contraception.
Mirena Intrauterine Device (IUD)
The IUD is inserted into the uterus by a trained professional, such as a gynecologist. It releases levonorgestrel (a hormone) which mainly stops a woman from getting pregnant by creating a mucus plug to form in the cervix. This stops sperm from finding its way into the uterus, and therefore fertilization does not occur.
What the Mirena IUD does, is thins uterus’ lining, and over a period of time, lightens a woman’s period greatly. Actually, after using it for 9 months, 20% of women who use it apparently have no vaginal bleeding within the next three months of use. For those who bleed, bleeding is only spotting over two days. After using the Mirena IUD for two years, 40% of women experience no bleeding at all. However, there may be heavy bleeding after the first few weeks after insertion. There may also be a loss of interest in sex, and puffiness in the hands and feet, as well as ankles and face, and changes in hair growth.
However, as it does not stop a woman from producing an egg every month (ovulating), it may have no affect regarding the symptoms of PMS, although cramps seem to be not as severe. It apparently prevents pregnancy for a period of up to 5 years.
It’s IMPORTANT to know that the Paragard IUD, which is also referred to as the copper IUD, is a device that’s non-hormonal. It actually has the ability to make a woman’s period heavier, so this is not the best option for military women looking for a solution to suppress their periods.
This is a thin and flexible, small plastic rod that is inserted in the upper regions of the arm, just beneath the skin. What it does, is release etonogestrel (a hormone) which stops eggs being released from the ovaries (ovulation), and creates a thick cervical mucus, preventing sperm to fertilize any eggs. It’s important to note that vaginal bleeding is often unpredictable when using the Nexplanon.
Most that use this will have lighter bleeding, or will experience no bleeding – however, this will all be sporadic. Some women that use this will have many months with no blood in site, while others may bleed and spot for continuous days. Some will even experience more days of bleeding.
Nexplanon should never be used if you think you may be pregnant, have or have had blood clots in the past, have any type of cancer sensitive to progestin (female hormone), have liver disease or a liver tumor, or any unexplained vaginal bleeding. You should not use it if you are allergic to any of its ingredients.
Side effects of Nexplanon are:
Headache, pain in arm (where it has been inserted), breast pain, painful periods, nervousness, depression and moodiness, back pain, viral infections like sore throats and flu symptoms, stomach pain, weight gain, general pain, nausea, inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis), dizziness and acne.
The Depo-Provera injection (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate) is shot in the muscles of the arm or butt, and prevents a woman from falling pregnant for a maximum of three months. Most women using this don’t get their periods for an amount of 6-12 months after being injected.
Women may experience irregular bleeding after the first and second shot. Women need this injected repeatedly every 12 weeks – so this may be a problem for military women who are deployed for months at a time. However, it really does prevent bleeding after using it for a year, but it does affect fertility, and it may take a woman up to 12 months to fall pregnant after stopping it. This is the big difference compared to the Nexplanon or Mirena IUD as their effects go away once they are removed.
Side effects of the Depo-Provera shot are:
Irregular periods or no periods at all, nervousness and depression, headaches, acne, change in appetite, weight gain, decreased sexual drive, loss of bone mineral density, weakness, excess facial and body hair, belly pain, bloating, breakthrough bleeding, fatigue, dizziness and hair loss.
The NuvaRing is a ring made of flexible plastic that is inserted within the vagina, and it releases the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These two important hormones stop ovulation, and just like “the pill,” they thicken the cervical mucus, preventing fertilization.
The great thing, is the fact that you can insert the NuvaRing by yourself – you don’t need a gynecologist to help you with this. It must be changed every 3-4 weeks to prevent pregnancy. Once it is removed for a period of 7 days, a period generally occurs. However, if you don’t want a period, all you have to do is insert a brand new NuvaRing immediately after throwing away the old one.
The only setback to this ring is the fact that it needs to be stored at room temperature (or in the fridge if it is a supply of four months plus). Many military women are deployed in the Middle East, and so the NuvaRing isn’t really an option for them as temperatures are so hot. It only works for them if they are able to store the NuvaRing in temperatures that aren’t so hot, and they have access to a fridge.
Side effects of the NuvaRing are:
Extra vaginal wetness, spotting or bleeding between periods, headaches, sore breasts and nausea. However, these usually go away after 2-3 months of using it.
Female soldiers really take on a lot when they enter the military, especially when it comes to menstrual cycles. Therefore, it’s really good to see that there are, in fact, many options available so that they can control their periods. However, it is VERY IMPORTANT for them to begin taking birth control, or trying menstrual cups and period panties at least 3 to 6 months before deployment to see what works best for them!
It is thanks to these brave women that our countries are safer, so it’s really important that they take care of themselves the best way they can during the most sensitive time of the month!