The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends changing your pad at least every 4 to 8 hours, but that’s just a very general range.
How often you change your pad depends on your flow, the type of pad you use, and what feels most comfortable.
Oh, you’ll know.
Your pad should be changed before it gets full. You can monitor how full it’s getting during your trips to the toilet, or gauge it by the feels. If your pad feels wet or uncomfortable, change it.
The key is to change it often enough to avoid leaks or discomfort. Or smell. Yep, period smell is real.
It’s tight quarters down there where your vulva and pad live, and your anus is a close neighbor. Sweat and bacteria, which are usually there anyway, can lead to some pretty funky odors if left to sit long enough. Throw period blood into the mix, and it can get pretty *ahem* dank.
While some odor — and bacteria — is totally normal, it’s best to keep things as clean and dry as possible down there. This won’t just help with smells, but reduce your risk for infections, too.
All that said, some pads are thicker and designed to hold more blood than others, which may afford you some leeway between changes. The instructions on the package are a good place to start if you’re unsure.
Good question. However, there isn’t a single right answer because there are a few factors to consider that might change how many you’d need.
A very rough estimate would be four or five pads, assuming that you’re getting at least the recommended 7 hours of sleep at night.
Keep in mind these factors that might make you want (or need) to use more:
- Exercise. Sweat can make things wetter and smellier down there. Plus, pads can shift and squish with more exercise, and there’s good possibility that you’ll end up with an uncomfortable pad wedgie after a Pilates or spin class.
- Hot weather. Getting too damp down there is no good, and the hotter it is, the more moisture you can expect.
- Your plans. Depending on what you’ve got planned for the day, an extra pad change before you head out might be a good idea even if your pad’s still relatively dry. Think: date night, an afternoon of meetings, or a long flight when getting up to change it is less than ideal.
- Heavy flow days. The first day or two of a period are usually the heaviest, so you’ll probably need to change more often on those days. Same for any other heavy days (which for people with heavy periods may be every freakin’ day).
Unless you get more than 12 hours of sleep on the regular or have an unusually heavy period (which you should definitely talk about with your healthcare provider), one pad should be sufficient.
You can thank the invention of overnight pads for this sleep-sparing convenience.
There’s pretty much a pad for every flow and situation. They come in different widths, lengths, and absorbencies, and with or without wings.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences:
- Regular. This usually refers to a pad with medium absorbency for flow that fall in the mid-range between light and heavy.
- Maxi. Maxi pads are thicker. A lot of people prefer pads to be as thin as possible, but others prefer the security of a thicker pad. These usually accommodate a medium or heavy flow.
- Super. As you’d guess from the name, a super pad offers more absorbency. These are best suited to the first couple days of your period or every day if you have a heavy flow.
- Thin/ultra-thin. As you’d imagine, a thin or ultra-thin pad is considerably thinner than other types. They’re thicker than a panty liner, but not by much. These are usually best for light days or the tail end of your period.
- Slender. Again, the name says it all. These pads are narrower than other types making them better for the narrower gusset of skimpier skivvies or people who wear a smaller clothing size.
- Overnight. These are queen of pads. They’re usually longer and thinner than other styles, and some brands are wider in the back — all in the name of protecting your undies and sheets from nighttime leaks. They also have wings, which are flaps of extra material that wrap around the sides of the crotch of your underpants for extra leak protection. Genius, really.
That covers the basics, but there are all kinds of variations on these, like scented and unscented, long and short, and wings or no wings.
Then you’ve got products for fitness, teens, and even pads in different sizes from extra-small to extra-large. To clarify, these are for different underwear sizes, not vulva sizes.
Experts actually recommend using pads instead of tampons or at least swapping out your tampon for a pad overnight to reduce the risk.
You don’t need to worry about TSS when wearing pads, but other infections are possible if you don’t practice proper period hygiene.
Trapped moisture provides a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus, and wearing a pad for too long can lead to an infection, including a yeast infection.
A damp pad and friction can also cause irritation or the dreaded pad rash and make you more susceptible to infection.
Change your pad as often as you need to stay dry and clean, and expect your needs to change throughout your period. Having a couple different pads with different absorbencies on hand to accommodate the ebb and flow of your, well, flow is a good idea.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.