Maybe you’ve already started talking to your daughter about menstruation. Maybe you’re wondering where to begin. Or even when to begin.
Because girls are starting to menstruate at an earlier age than when we were young, it’s best to start talking about it by age 8, spread it out over several smaller conversations. Most girls get their first period at around age 12 — some start as early as age 8 or as late as age 16. It usually starts two years after breast development. You’ll want her to have all the facts well before she gets her first period.
Keep in mind it doesn’t really matter how prepared your daughter thinks she is, when it happens for the first time, she likely will still be surprised! Your support, compassion and straightforward information can make your daughter’s first step into womanhood a true bonding experience.
Here’s what you’ll want to cover as you talk with your daughter about her first period.
A period, called menstruation, occurs because female hormones make the uterus (womb) lining grow. Later in life, when you are ready to have a baby, the lining will nurture the fertilized ovum (egg) that develops into a fetus. Until that time, the thickened lining needs to come out periodically. This causes bleeding from the vagina.
Normal menstrual periods last approximately seven days and occur every 21 to 45 days. Feminine pads or tampons can be used to collect the blood and keep it from getting on your clothes. Typically, three to six pads per day are needed.
Pads come in different shapes and sizes. Some have “wings” to help protect your underwear. Choose one that is comfortable for you and large enough to absorb the blood. Avoid scented pads. Pads need to be changed every 4 to 6 hours.
Tampons are worn inside the vagina to catch the flow as it leaves the body. Instructions on how to insert them into the vagina are printed on the box. Tampons should be changed every 4 to 6 hours to avoid a serious infection called toxic shock syndrome.
Some girls experience pain with their period, which is called menstrual cramps. Cramps are caused by the uterus contracting to push out the lining (blood). Exercise and heating pads, especially disposable heat patches, can help relieve the pain, as can over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, Midol, Aleve or Pamprin. Combining heat and ibuprofen will provide even more relief. Disposable heat patches are thin and easy to wear to school or activities.
PMS, short for premenstrual syndrome, is also common about a week before and a few days during your period. PMS can cause irritability, bloating and feeling tired, achy, emotional or sad. To alleviate PMS symptoms, cut down on salt and caffeine intake, get plenty of rest and exercise, and eat healthy foods.
Tracking your period
Most girls’ periods are irregular at first, with the cycles becoming regular within one to three years. That irregularity can make you wonder when your period is going to show up, and if it will start at school or when you are not prepared for it. Once your period becomes regular and you begin to recognize how your body feels throughout the month, you’ll likely be able to tell when you are about to start. Before that, and continuing throughout your life, it’s best to track your period on a calendar or smartphone app.
There are many handy apps available by doing a quick search on your mobile device’s app store. Some doctor-recommended apps are Pink Pad, Monthly Cycles and iPeriod. To track your period cycle, count the first day of your period as day 1. Until you know how many days in your cycle are normal for you, mark day 28 as the last day in your cycle. You can anticipate your period starting a day or two before or after that, however it can vary from month to month.
Problems with periods
Once your daughter starts menstruating, she should have a period at least every three months. If more than 90 days pass without having a period, or if her cycles change from what she normally has been experiencing, it’s time to talk to a health care provider.
Consult with a health care provider if your daughter experiences any of these:
• Soaking a pad or tampon in less than two hours (heavy bleeding)
• Passing clots larger than the size of a quarter
• Frequently soiling clothes
• Periods lasting more than seven days or coming less than 21 days apart
• Period interfering with school or activities
• Cramps that keep her out of school or cause her to miss activities
When to see an OB/GYN physician
Adolescent girls should first visit an obstetrician/gynecologist between the ages of 13 to 15, with subsequent annual visits. The first visit generally does not include a pelvic examination.
Other reasons for visiting an OB/GYN are:
• Breast development prior to age 8
• No period by age 15
• No period within two years of developing breasts
• No breast development by age 14
• Periods lasting more than a week or coming less than 21 days apart
• Skipping periods for more than three months