Packages of Tampax brand tampons on a drugstore shelf in New York on Wednesday, February 10, 2016. A...
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There's Now A Tampon Shortage... Because Baby Formula Wasn't Stressful Enough

The tampon shortage is yet another sign that the United States isn't quite done with pandemic fallout.

While many Americans have enjoyed a life that’s largely “back to normal” in the wake of the deadliest days of the Covid-19, many sectors of life and the economy are still coping with fallout from the pandemic. Various shortages have plagued consumers since 2020, from toilet paper to puzzles and books to baby formula and now there’s a tampon shortage: just in time for summer! Here’s what you need to know.

This problem seems to have been happening for a while for several reasons.

Anecdotal stories on social media indicate that a lack of disposable menstrual supplies — not just tampons but pads as well — has been happening in certain places and with certain brands for months. In fact, Procter & Gamble recently told Good Housekeeping that the situation has actually improved over the past month, claiming supply has “significantly increased.”

NPR reports that this appears to be due to three main factors: increased expenses in raw materials, factory staffing issues, and transportation bottlenecks and delays. Writing for Time, senior economics correspondent Alana Semuels posits another potential factor: “There’s the shortage of tampons, and formula, and, in the UK, a shortage of HRT, a drug that’s used to treat the symptoms of menopause,” she observes. “Are bad decisions being made at companies run by men that are affecting the supply of products for women?” She further argued that the taboo of talking about menstruation perhaps added to the issue.

As with just about everything else, costs are going up on these products.

Stories about inflation, from food to gas are all too familiar lately and menstrual products are no exception. Bloomberg reports that the cost of pads is up 8.3% while tampons are up almost 10%. Moreover, a majority of states currently tax menstrual products, which makes them even more expensive despite their monthly necessity for a large segment of the population.

This is potentially dire news for those who already experience “period poverty,” having insufficient supplies to safely and sanitarily make it through their period every month. Even before the shortage and price hike, an estimated 16.9 million Americans experienced period poverty annually. Two thirds of low-income women can’t afford adequate menstrual products, many having to choose between food and basic sanitary supplies, according to research published in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Another survey conducted by U by Kotex found that a staggering third of respondents reported having missed school, work, or appointments due to lack of menstrual products, and indicated that the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to make access issues even worse.

Social media is fed up.

While there has been no viral campaign or widespread hashtag, people have been taking to social media to air their anger and concerns about the menstrual products shortage.

Tampons are yet another necessity that has been in short supply.

“The fact that I am waking up at 6 a.m. every morning calling every store around me for formula and now I’m going to have to do it with tampons just forms more hate with this country,” tweets @SarahhVegas.

Many brands remain out of stock in some stores.

Twitter user @CaliGirlChelley bemoaned having to go to multiple stores and still not find her preferred brand.

News reports are catching up with consumer experiences.

For some, like @ThatMariePerson, news reports confirm and validate their own experiences. “It took going to a different city to find some,” they write.

Fortunately there are alternatives available

Formula feeding parents hearing “just breastfeed” was, perhaps, some of the least helpful advice we’ve heard in the past few months (which is almost impressive considering how much bad advice Americans have gotten in the last couple years). But in the case of tampons being in short supply, menstruating folks do have other options for handling their periods. Menstrual cups are widely available online and even in stores like Target, Walmart, or CVS. These reusable silicone cups are inserted inside the vagina and can generally be worn for longer than a tampon. Though there’s a learning curve, and they’re usually more expensive than a box of disposal menstrual products, they can be used for years. (We recommend taking the quiz on to see what brand might work best for you.) Reusable pads and “period underwear,” which can be worn in lieu of a pad, are also good options and can be found fairly inexpensively online, especially considering you’ll likely be able to use them for years.

If you don’t love the idea of reusing period products, disposable menstrual discs are another option that can be found in stores and online.