Both menstrual pads and tampons are readily available at grocery, drug and department stores and come in a variety of styles. Pads vary both in terms of their absorbency, and in their shape and size. Commonly, women will use different pads at different times in their menstrual cycle, or at different times of the day, as appropriate to their activity level, and the rate of their menstrual flow. Heavier flow periods are matched to more absorbent pads. The general rule is that thicker pad will be more absorbent. However, there are extra-thin pads that are advertised to have the same absorbency as thicker pads.
Pads vary in shape as well as absorbency. Longer varieties are intended for overnight periods when the body is lying flat. Winged varieties are designed to protect the sides of underwear. Selection of pad type is a matter of individual choice and comfort; there aren't hard and fast rules. Girls may want to try out many different kinds of pads before deciding which kind they prefer.
For health and hygienic reasons, girls should learn to check their pads regularly, every few hours, so as to monitor how heavy their flow is. They need to learn to anticipate when a given pad will require changing, and then change their pad before it becomes too full and fails with the undesirable result that they flow through to their clothes. Girls with lighter flows will not need to change their pads quite as frequently as will girls with heavier flows. However, pads should be still changed at least every 4-8 hours so as to prevent body odor from developing.
When young ladies grow a bit older and more mature, they may want to try tampons. Tampons must be physically inserted inside the vagina in order to function properly. Most tampon boxes come with descriptive written instructions and picture diagrams teaching girls how to safely and comfortably insert the tampon. It's important that girls relax when they first insert a tampon. If they are tense during the insertion process, the muscles of their vagina may contract, causing discomfort.
As is the case with pads, there are a variety of tampon styles and absorbencies. Some tampons come with an applicator, designed to assist with the process of insertion, while others do not. Some young women may feel more comfortable using an applicator, rather than their hand, but this ultimately amounts to a personal preference.
Whichever style is preferred, it is very important that girls learn to carefully wash their hands before inserting tampons. Hand washing reduces bacteria on the hands which might otherwise find their way into the vagina and lead to a vaginal infection. It is best for girls to develop the habit of washing their hands before and after handling feminine hygiene products.
It is important that girls change tampons every 4-8 hours, and to choose the lightest absorbency tampon they have available which is appropriate to their rate of menstrual flow at any given change. These precautions help girls reduce their risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). In this medical condition, women rapidly develop a high fever along with symptoms of rash, dizziness, and red eyes. TSS develops when certain strains of staph bacteria breed in the tampon that was inserted in the body. Although TSS is rare, it is still a good idea to take precautions to further lower risk. Apart from limiting the amount of hours a tampon is worn, girls can also limit how many tampons they wear in a row to further reduce their risk. Caregivers who suspect TSS should seek emergency medical care.