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A sanitary napkin, sanitary towel, sanitary pad, menstrual pad, maxi pad, or pad is an absorbent item worn by a woman while she is menstruating, recovering from vaginal surgery, for lochia (post birth bleeding), abortion, or any other situation where it is necessary to absorb a flow of blood from a woman's vagina.
These pads are not to be confused with generally higher absorbency incontinence pads, which are worn by men or women who have urinary incontinence problems or experience stress incontinence. Menstrual pads may be used by some people for this purpose.
Menstrual pads are worn to absorb menstrual discharge (and thereby protect clothing and furnishings). They are usually individually wrapped so they are easier and more discreet to carry in a purse or bag. This wrapper may be used to wrap the soiled pads before disposing of them in appropriate receptacles. Some women prefer to wrap the pads with toilet paper instead of (or as well as) using the wrapper. Menstrual pads (of any type) should not be flushed down the toilet, as they can cause blockages. In developed countries, public toilets almost always include a purpose-made receptacle in which to place soiled pads. In First Aid, they make excellent dressings for heavy bleeding if gauze is unavailable or inadequate due to their high absorbency.
Many women who experience urinary incontinence use menstrual pads to manage bladder leaks. However, since menstrual pads are designed to absorb menstrual flow, it won't be as effective in absorbing urinary leaks. Instead, women with bladder control issues should use incontinence pads, such as Poise.
Disposable menstrual pads
There are several different types of disposable menstrual pads:
Panty Liner - Designed to absorb daily vaginal discharge, light menstrual flow, "spotting", slight urinary incontinence, or as a backup for tampon or menstrual cup use.
Ultra-thin - A very compact (thin) pad, which may be as absorbent as a Regular or Maxi/Super pad but with less bulk.
Regular - A middle range absorbency pad.
Maxi / Super - A larger absorbency pad, useful for the start of the menstrual cycle when menstruation is often heaviest.
Overnight - A longer pad to allow for more protection while the wearer is lying down, with an absorbency suitable for overnight use.
Maternity - These are usually slightly longer than a maxi/Super pad and are designed to be worn to absorb lochia (bleeding that occurs after childbirth).
The shape, absorbency and lengths may vary depending on manufacturer, but usually range from the short slender panty liner to the larger and longer overnight. Long pads are offered for extra protection or for larger women whose woman's undergarments might not be completely protected by regular length pads, and also for overnight use.
Other options are often offered in a manufacturer's line of pads, such as wings or tabs that wrap around the sides of the woman's underwear to add additional leak protection and help secure the pad in place. Deodorant is also added to some pads, which is designed to cover menstrual odor with a light fragrance. There are even panty liners specifically designed to be worn with a thong/G-string.
Cloth menstrual pads
Alternatively, some women use a washable or reusable cloth menstrual pad. These are made from a number of types of fabric — most often cotton flannel, or hemp (which is highly absorbent and not as bulky as cotton). Most styles have wings that secure around the underpants, but some are just held in place (without wings) between the body and the underpants. Some (particularly the older styles) are available in belted styles. Washable menstrual pads do not need to be disposed of after use and therefore offer a more economical alternative for women. Also called "mama cloth", reusable menstrual pads can be found on a number of websites, or are made at home (instructions are available online). They have become a popular alternative and gaining in popularity among women, because they are allergen- and perfume-free, and can be more comfortable for women who suffer from irritations from using disposable pads .