Heavy periods: Don’t ignore your daughter’s pain

Here’s how much a tampon or pad holds to help judge how heavy her periods are.

Mothers who experience heavy periods may expect that their daughters will have the same fate. If you’ve had heavy periods and consider it as just “something to deal with,” it may not be the same for your child. Menstruation varies from person to person. What’s considered normal, and what’s considered excessive blood loss for a heavy period? When should you get your daughter care?

How to tell if your daughter has heavy periods

Research shows that heavy menstrual bleeding, the medical term for a heavy period, is blood loss greater than 80 milliliters per cycle or period. Blood loss can be hard to measure unless using a menstrual cup. Even if a young woman loses less than 80 milliliters during her period, it can still affect her quality of life. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines heavy menstrual bleeding as “excessive menstrual blood loss which interferes with a woman’s physical, social, emotional and/or material quality of life.” Here are a few ways to tell if your daughter is experiencing a heavy period:

  • Her periods last longer than eight days.
  • She bleeds more often than every three weeks.
  • Bleeding that requires that she change a pad or tampon every hour or less. Pay attention to the difference between regular, maxi and overnight tampons or pads.
  • She needs to wake up during the night to change pads or tampons.
  • She misses school, work or after-school activities due to her period.
  • She feels heavy pain in the abdomen and/or lower back.
  • She feels tired, has a lack of energy, dizziness or other signs of anemia.
  • She has several grape-sized or larger blood clots.

How much does a tampon or pad hold?

When calculating how much blood your daughter may be losing, consider:

  • A fully saturated light tampon can hold up to 3 milliliters of fluid.
  • A fully saturated super tampon may hold up to 12 milliliters of fluid.
  • A fully saturated regular daytime pad may hold around 5 milliliters of fluid.
  • A fully soaked overnight pad may hold 10 to 15 milliliters of fluid.

Norton Children’s Gynecology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

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Discovering the cause of your child’s heavy periods

There are several kinds of conditions that can cause heavy periods in young women. Some of the most common include:

  • Bleeding disorders. If a young woman has an inherited bleeding disorder that prevents blood from clotting normally, the young woman likely will experience heavy periods from the first time she gets her period.
  • Cancers and precancers. This is very uncommon but can be a cause for abnormal bleeding for women under the age of 40. Precancers and cancers may cause heavy periods, but are more likely to cause irregular bleeding or bleeding between periods.
  • Endometriosis. This condition causes the endometrium (the lining inside your uterus) to grow outside of the uterus. This condition can prevent the endometrium from stopping the bleeding normally.
  • Ovulatory disorder. This hormonal condition happens when ovulation is absent or irregular. This may cause irregular bleeding between periods that may or may not include heavy menstrual bleeding as a symptom.

How to help your daughter

If your daughter has any issues with starting her period, how often she is having her period or has heavy flow, she may need to see a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist.

Teen girls should first visit an OB/GYN between age 11 and 13, followed by yearly visits. The first visit generally does not include a pelvic examination.

Once your daughter starts her period, teach your daughter how to track her period. This can help her start a conversation with her physician about her period and any symptoms, such as heavy bleeding, she is experiencing. There are several menstrual apps that help women track their periods, including:

  • Clue
  • Period Tracker
  • My Calendar
  • MagicGirl (specifically for teens)