Can Period Underwear Help With Cramp Pain? Gynecologists Weigh In

A tweet has sparked debate online about the potential benefits of period underwear.

Period underwear consists of materials that are designed to soak up menstrual blood and keep moisture away from the wearer's skin. Once a niche product, they are now readily available.

Earlier this week, Twitter user @_gardenoflotus shared her view of the benefits experienced by wearing period underwear. The post has been liked nearly 100,000 times at the time of writing and has been retweeted more than 4,500 times.

"I used period underwear for my last cycle. Tell me why it was one of the lightest periods I've ever experienced, as well as symptomless. I practically had no bloating, less clotting & my period blood was bright red," @_gardenoflotus said in the post.

"Period underwear is a good way to cultivate a healthier relationship with your period & body. Society has created a negative stigma surrounding periods & how our periods make us feel nasty. Something that we shouldn't look forward to," they said.

Numerous people commented in the replies, with many echoing the sentiments contained in the original post.

"I LOVE period pants! They're genius, comfortable, they work and I have much less blood flow, they're eco friendly and take 4 seconds to rinse then chuck in with the normal laundry," one user said. "They should be the norm now, so convenient and improve EVERYTHING about having my period!"

Other users also commented in the replies about how different period products appeared to have an effect on the cramping pain they experienced during their periods. But can period underwear alleviate the cramp pain associated with periods?

Unfortunately, the picture is currently unclear, according to Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist and New York Times columnist whose upcoming book is all about menstruation.

"There are no studies evaluating menstrual products and menstrual pain," Gunter told Newsweek. "If someone has a lot of vaginal spasms or pelvic floor muscle spasm then a tampon or a cup might make that worse. That doesn't mean that tampons and cups cause period pain or that period underwear treats menstrual pain."

"You won't say that wearing running shoes treats a bunion, right? But menstrual products are about comfort and that means different things to different people," she said.

According to Gunter, the quantity of blood flow during someone's period can be linked to the pain they experience.

"In general, heavier periods can be associated with more pain, but it depends on the reason for the heavy periods and so that is really a broad generalization," she said. "There are also several conditions that can cause pain with periods and are associated with more blood loss."

But what about the claim in the original post that period underwear can reduce the amount of blood flow?

"The claim is false. It is not physically possible for a menstrual product to change the amount of blood during menstruation. As pads and tampons are white the blood is more visible because of the contrast, and period underwear is usually dark and the blood soaks into the garment so it isn't generally visible," she said. "To some this may look like it is less, but it is not."

"There is an old myth that tampons increase menstrual blood and this has been around since I was a girl in the 1970s. It's really a conspiracy theory based on the false claim that evil tampon companies were putting asbestos (or another chemical) into tampons to increase bleeding and hence sell more tampons. It is biologically impossible for a tampon or menstrual cup to increase the volume of your menstrual flow."

Gunter said internal menstrual products are located in the vagina, while the chemical signaling for menstruation happens in the uterus.

"This myth is likely based on purity culture—i.e. keeping your vagina pure by not inserting tampons," she said. "I suspect this is just a current evolution of that myth and the reason it may feel true as almost everyone has been exposed to the myth."

Dr. Jackie Maybin, a senior researcher and consultant gynecologist at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, at Scotland's University of Edinburgh, also told Newsweek that the choice of menstrual product will not affect the amount of blood lost.

"Those experiencing problematic periods may require additional measures to find the underlying cause and help with their symptoms," she said.

Being comfortable during a period can help with some menstrual symptoms, she said.

"It is important that people find the right product to help them manage their menstrual blood loss. This may be pads, tampons, menstrual cups or period pants. The key is having a range of options that people can choose from so that they feel confident and comfortable during menstruation," she said.

A woman with menstrual cramps
A woman experiencing menstrual cramps. A tweet has sparked debate online about the potential benefits of period underwear versus other products. iStock