Women's Health

Providing advice, information and guidance to support our women in NZDF to stay healthy.

Military women and periods

While menstruation is part of life for many women, challenges can arise when deployed into a field or operational environment. Periods may be different to what you are used to and may become irregular and/or the flow may be heavier, working environments may not be hygienic, and period supplies may be limited. The below sections discuss some options available to you to make you more comfortable when you have your period in a challenging environment, or where your access to your normal amenities might be limited. 

Considerations for field and operational deployments

  • Tampons and pads are a convenient and familiar method for most women, but consider if they are practical if you frequently experience heavier flow. Reusable pads are not considered practical on most field and operational deployments due to unreliable access to laundry facilities.
  • Menstrual cups are soft rubber cups that are put into your vagina to catch the blood flow. You empty the cup every 8–12 hours, rinse it under water, and re-insert it. This method is only practical in an environment with reliable access to clean ablutions. 
  • Period underwear looks and feels like your regular underwear, but are very absorbent. They can be used instead of pads or tampons when you have a light flow, or as a back-up when you have a heavy flow. 
  • Period tracking apps can allow for accurate tracking of your period, but remember your cycle potentially may not remain regular when exposed to ongoing stress in an operational environment. For a list of appropriate apps click here.
Increasingly more military women are opting for contraceptive support to control or cease menstruation for prolonged periods. Education on how to manage your period is crucial, and your local Defence Health Centre (DHC) can provide you with further support. Reach out to your local nurse or doctor at a DHC near you.

Military women and UTIs

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are very common; one in two women will likely experience an infection in their lifetime. Women on active duty are often exposed to conditions that may increase their risk of a UTI, such as decreased access to bathrooms, postponed urination, and fluid restriction. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to UTIs because the weight of the growing foetus in the uterus can prevent the complete emptying of the bladder.

What are the symptoms of a UTI? 

  • pain or burning during, or immediately after peeing
  • fever, tiredness or shakiness
  • an urge to pee more often
  • passing small amounts of pee more frequently
  • pressure in your lower belly
  • urine that smells bad or looks cloudy or reddish
  • getting out of bed often to pee at night.


Speak with a medic or doctor about your symptoms. They will likely prescribe pain relief and potentially a course of antibiotics. 

Treating and Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

What can I do to prevent UTIs?

Do Don’t
Do wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet. Don't use perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder.
Do try to fully empty your bladder  when you pee. Don't hold your pee in if you feel the urge to go.
Do drink plenty of fluids. Don't wear tight, synthetic underwear, such as nylon.
Do take showers instead of baths. Don't wear tight jeans or trousers.
Do wear loose cotton underwear. Don't use condoms or diaphragms with spermicidal lube on them – try non-spermicidal lube or a different type of contraception.
Do pee as soon as possible after sex.


Helpful resources

Ministry of Health 
Healthify|He Puna Waiora

Breast health

Being breast aware

  • Be familiar with the usual look and feel of your breasts and know what is normal for you. See your doctor if you notice any changes.
  • Know what breast changes to look and feel for.
  • Have a mammogram every 2 years if you are aged 45 to 69 years (see breast screening.
  • Know your family history of cancer.

It's important to know what your breasts and nipples look like, and how they feel before and after your period, so that you can easily identify any changes. This can be done while dressing or showering. Women of all ages should be familiar with their breasts, but it becomes more important as you get older because the risk of breast cancer increases with age. Read more about breast lumps and changes.

How do I check my breasts?


Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Kiwi women. Regular mammograms can save lives by finding breast cancer early, before it spreads. To register with BreastScreen Aotearoa, you can phone 0800 270 200, enrol online or talk to your doctor.

Once enrolled, you will be sent a reminder of your free mammogram every 2 years - don't forget to provide updates of your postal address if you relocate between screens. Screening centres are located throughout New Zealand and all have wheelchair access. Mobile screening units also travel around the country. 

The Breast Cancer Foundation recommend that women between the ages of 40 and 50 have yearly screens, meaning they can opt to self-fund a mammogram at a  private radiology or breast clinic on alternate years.

Reduce your risk of developing breast cancer

HPV screening

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Regular screening allows for early detection, follow-up testing and treatment.
From September 2023, HPV (human papillomavirus) testing became the new method for cervical screening in New Zealand. HPV testing is a better first screening test that looks for human papillomavirus, which causes cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer.
Women, transgender or non-binary people who have a cervix and are aged 25–69 years are eligible for publicly funded screening every five years.
You may be able to choose a self-administered HPV vaginal swab rather than the traditional cervical sample collection. Your doctor or nurse can advise you on what type of screening is most suitable for you.
Generally will only need a screening test once every five years, but you should make an appointment with your doctor if you notice anything unusual in between screenings. This includes bleeding or spotting between periods or after sex, vaginal discharge that is not normal for you, or persistent pain in your pelvis or lower back.
If you are 25 and have not been screened, or you think you are overdue for a screen, contact your Defence Health Centre (DHC). You can also request the HPV vaccination, which, in conjunction with regular HPV screening, provides the best protection against cervical cancer.

Helpful resources

Time to Screen

How can the NZDF help you?

Defence Health Centre (DHC). If you have any concerns book an appointment with your doctor at your nearest DHC. They will be able to do an examination and discuss any concerns and refer to a specialist if necessary. If you do receive a serious prognosis, the doctor will provide resources and support.

Gymnasium. If you need help to exercise more, or to lose weight to be healthier, consult your local Physical Training Instructor (PTI) and ask for advice on an appropriate exercise program.

Social Support. Sometimes the pressures of work and family and stress of everyday life can impact on our health. You may also be dealing with a frightening health prognosis. We strongly recommend that you reach out and talk to someone, our  chaplains, the marae,  our social workers and NZDF4U can all help.