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What does it mean to get caught short?

What does it mean to be caught short? TOTM tampons in varying absorbencies and colours

In our periods at work survey, 70% of our community said they had been caught short by their period at work.

What does it mean to get caught short? Unless you’ve been in the situation yourself, you may not understand what it means to get caught short. In its simplest form, ‘getting caught short’ means lacking something you need. In this case, it’s starting your period without access to products. When this happens, as you cannot stop your period once it’s started, not having a tampon or pad can lead to stress or panic.

Unfortunately, the majority of people with periods know how it feels to get caught short at work.

Getting caught short is a common occurrence.

Periods can be unpredictable. Even if someone is tracking their menstrual cycle, it might not be 100% accurate. Many factors, including stress, medications, and diet can impact when a period shows up. When planning to go to work on your period, it’s easy to not pack enough products. Especially if you have a heavy bleed or an unexpected period. Also, it’s sometimes not easy to gain access to your personal period care supply when in work. You could be in a long meeting, or you might work a shift with allocated breaks.

Without easy, convenient access to period care in workplaces it’s inevitable that staff will get caught short at some time. When facing this situation, over 50% of our community said they would go home early from work. They also said that they would consider a temporary measure such as making a makeshift pad out of toilet paper. Toilet paper has a poor absorbency and is not a suitable substitute for a pad or tampon. Due to lack of absorbency, toilet paper alternatives are often uncomfortable and ineffective.

Real stories of getting caught short by a period at work.

There are so many reasons why getting caught short at work causes stress and inconvenience. We asked our community to share real anecdotes from a time this happened to them. These stories illustrate how this looks in different workplaces:

Corporate office role

“I stood up and saw stains on my office chair and when I realised I had no products I was completely overwhelmed. I rolled up thick layers of toilet roll and felt the need to go to the loo and check everything was okay every 20 minutes.”

Veterinary nurse

“I was in theatre (I was a veterinary nurse at the time) and wearing scrubs. I asked the theatre supervisor if I could go to the toilet, and she declined my request. So I held my ground and said in a matter-of-fact manner ‘I’ve just come on my period, if you don’t let me use the toilet we’re going to have a situation’ on our hands.”

Book store/retail

“I was working in a busy bookstore at the time and had no pads with me. I had to tidy up and restock very tall shelves that required standing on a ladder, and I was conscious that I’d leaked through onto my jeans. The worst thing was our bookstore had no toilets. So, I had to wait until the end of my shift to go somewhere else in town to use their toilet and make a DIY pad from toilet paper! It was one of the worst days ever, and I’ve never told anyone about it.”


“When I was 18, I was working on the checkouts at a big supermarket. I was caught out by my period coming early and didn’t have any pads (which is what I used at the time). I had to get the attention of my supervisor to ask for a bathroom break, which was awkward in itself because he didn’t like giving anyone bathroom breaks.

When he tried to tell me to wait, I told him “I can do that but there’ll be a puddle of blood on the floor if you don’t let me go to the toilet now.” This was humiliating and I felt like I was having to validate my need to go to a toilet. When I got to the toilet, I used toilet roll to make a “pad” (as many of us will have done before) until I could speak to my friend and ask if she had any pads on her. I could’ve paid £3 from the period item dispenser in the toilet, but I didn’t have any coins on me.”

Primary School Teacher

“I am a primary school teacher which means I can only use the bathroom at set breaktimes. Due to the medication I take, my periods can be extremely heavy and irregular. On one occasion I was teaching, and I knew I had come on my period. Alongside the fact that I had to wait nearly 30 minutes to use the bathroom, I found that had run out of products.”


“I’m a nurse and was on a long day (7am-8pm). About halfway through my shift, I felt my period come on but couldn’t go to the bathroom to check straight away. By the time I managed to get to the toilet, my pants were bloody. I had to get my colleague to fetch some disposable surgical pants and an incontinence pad to change into.”


“I was working as a hospital cleaner wearing bright blue scrubs and near died when I felt my period starting. I had to rush to the toilet in the middle of a clean and had to use toilet paper until I could ask a friend for a pad. It was the most uncomfortable thing, and I was terrified to move in case it leaked.”

Police Officer

“I came on at the start of my shift then immediately got called out to an Emergency. Felt super anxious that I was going to leak.”


“I work in retail, and I once felt myself come on my period whilst dealing with a customer on the shop floor. I asked my manager if he could help the customer whilst I did something, you could tell in my voice it was urgent. He said no. I bled through my clothes, luckily, they were black, but I had an 8-hour shift ahead and no period products with me.”

Office role

“My periods are usually regular, but I was having a stressful time at work, so I think that’s what caused my period to come earlier. I remember sitting in the toilet stall feeling so overwhelmed. It felt like one more thing I had to be worried about during the week.”

Read to champion period comfort, wellbeing, and dignity at work? Let’s put an end to getting caught short. Discover how our workplace scheme can make a difference.

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