What Did Women Use Before Sanitary Napkins?

Prior to using sanitary napkins, women used various homemade and organic materials for catching menstrual blood, including cloth, silk fabrics, grass, sea sponges, seaweed, wool and animal furs. The use of various products varied over history and among regions. In ancient Egypt and Rome, women created early versions of tampons using materials such as papyrus and lightweight wood; similar items appeared in other African nations, deriving from grass and soft, sturdy plant fibers.

The availability of natural substances also influenced the sanitary items women used. Those living near coastal areas, for instance, used sea sponges, sea grasses and seaweed for protection. Women living in northern locations and further inland used animal furs and pelts. Some women wore early menstrual pads as long, thin strips of materials discreetly in their undergarments. Others created absorbent pads by stuffing outer soft, flexible layers of padding with cotton, wool and other materials.

Starting in the early 1900s, women wore menstrual belts. These belts consisted of straps around the waist with hanging clips to hold the pads in place. At first, women reused their menstrual products each month. That changed in the 1940s, however, with the invention of disposable sanitary items. Menstrual pads evolved over time, becoming more comfortable and user-friendly. They adopted a sleeker design and contoured shape from the 1960s through the 1990s, giving women many options.