Every person with a period has likely faced this situation at some point: You’re in the bathroom, wondering if you should (a) take your tampon out before pooping or (b) just leave it up there while you do your thing. If asking this question makes you feel slightly embarrassed: Don’t worry, you’re not the only person looking for an answer.
Here, two ob-gyns weigh in on what you should do the next time you’re stuck having to make this most pressing decision.
Is it safe to keep your tampon in while you poop?
If you need to poop and want to leave your tampon in—because you don’t have one handy or you literally just put one in and don’t feel like going through the hell of removing a sandpaper-dry tampon—that’s probably fine, Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital For Women and Babies in Florida, tells SELF, as long as you make sure to keep the string as far away from the action as possible. Considering how close your urethra, vag, and butt are, the risk of getting an infection—like a urinary tract infection (UTI)—when you’re wiping as you normally would without a tampon is pretty much the same as the risk of having a bowel movement with one in, says Dr. Greves.
The caveat: While there’s no research saying you can or can’t leave a tampon in when you poop (get it together, science!), there’s a chance that poop germs can end up on the tampon string if you’re not careful, Dr. Greves says. The bacteria of most concern is E. coli. While E. coli is totally normal and harmless in your GI tract, it can cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) if it gets in your vagina or a UTI in your urethra—this is why you should always wipe from front to back, folks. If your vagina starts to smell a bit fishy, especially after sex (or you notice a milky white or gray discharge), it’s likely BV, Dr. Greves says. Burning, funky, or cloudy pee might be signs of a UTI. If you’re feeling off, like extremely tired and confused, or notice any unusual symptoms, make an appointment with an ob-gyn ASAP.
If you leave your tampon in while you poop: What the heck do you do with the string?
Before touching anything near your vagina, always make sure to wash your hands, Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and the founder and author of Menopause Bootcamp, tells SELF.
Dr. Greves says that if you choose to leave your tampon in, you should be mindful of how you hold the string so poop doesn’t get on it. She recommends gently pulling the string anteriorly, meaning toward the front of your body, away from your butthole. This will ensure that the string stays far away from the poop field, she says. “If you have a hard time holding the tampon string, then you should take it out,” Dr. Greves says. You can still wipe as usual if you hold the string out the way, Dr. Greves adds. Another option: Simply tuck the string between your labia, says Dr. Greves. (FYI: This would work great if you—hypothetically speaking, of course, as you’d never really do this—happened to be on your phone.)
When should you definitely take your tampon out while you’re pooping?
It’s normal to sometimes forget to change your tampon as often as you should, which is every four to eight hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If the porcelain throne is calling and you’ve had your tampon in for eight or more hours, take it out. Leaving a tampon in for too long can increase your risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial infection.