Reading Time: 4 minutesDr Natalie Hutchins offers advice on helping your tween daughter to navigate the start of her period.
Puberty can be a tumultuous time for any tween navigating fluctuating hormones, changing bodies and unpredictable social dynamics, so it is no wonder periods can be an unwelcome addition for many girls and their parents. It is, of course, an inevitable part of growing up and when approached calmly and practically, it is a transition that many girls will make with ease. Here are some tips on preparing for your daughter’s first period.
Bleeding is usually associated with danger and harm, so it is understandable that girls may be fearful and hesitant about the idea of a monthly bleed. Rather than the haemorrhaging they may be imagining, the average amount of blood lost during a period is similar to one to two egg cups in total (although it can look much more when seen on a pad or in the toilet). This level of bleeding is entirely harmless as long as she is eating a well-balanced diet and it is helpful to reassure her of that (vegetarians may need additional iron and b12 support).
Even before your daughter’s first period, she will probably have heard negative stories surrounding the topic, particularly if their mum or older sisters have had bad experiences, and so they may start off with a negative perception of how life will be impacted. It is important for her to know that most women do not have problem periods and when they do, it is more common for it to occur later on in life, so she is likely to be absolutely fine and be able to carry on with all her normal activities, sport and school in just the same way.
- There are a wealth of options out there for girls and women to manage periods from pads to tampons to period pants and menstrual cups. Whichever she chooses is a matter of personal choice and comfort.
- Pads are often the easy go to option when girls first start their periods. Try different brands to find one that balances absorbancy with not being too bulky to achieve a comfortable fit and always pick a higher absorbancy for night use.
- Whilst there may be cultural reasons for avoiding tampons, there is no medical reason she can’t try this option if she feels comfortable to do so. Sporty girls, in particular, may find this a more attractive option. It is worth looking at the instructions and some female anatomy diagrams together so that she knows where the vaginal opening is. You can also use a small mirror so that she can see for herself. Remember the vagina slopes gently backwards so the tampon needs to be directed up and slightly back. She might find starting off with tampons with applicators easiest. It is important she remembers to change her tampons regularly; it isn’t uncommon for one to be forgotten and whilst this doesn’t usually pose a health risk, there is a small risk of toxic shock syndrome. Less mature girls may find grappling with all of this a bit much. If so, she can always try again at a later date.
- Menstrual cups require practice to get used to even for adults and may be an ambitious starting choice for most young girls. Having said that, there is no reason why a mature, motivated girl can’t try them.
- Having to deal with leaking or periods starting unexpectedly is also something that every woman will have to deal with and being well prepared can help prevent any embarrassing episodes. It might be helpful to have a small “period pack” kept in her school or sports bag that has a spare pair of underwear, a few sanitary pads or tampons and perhaps some wipes or tissues for these occasions. Teaching her how to fashion a temporary “pad” from tissue paper is also worth doing in case she is caught out completely.
Read more: The ABCs of Menstruation Cups
When to worry
- The average age for periods starting is around 12 but it is not uncommon for it to follow a familial pattern; girls of mothers that started their periods late often follow a similar pattern but do see a doctor if her periods haven’t started by 15 (or 13 if there are no signs of puberty at all). Periods starting before the age of 8 should always prompt a doctor’s visit.
- It is completely normal for periods to be irregular and less frequent for the first few years after they start, as the body’s hormonal control mechanisms are not fully mature. They usually become more regular over time. However, if her period does not come for six months (or three if they have previously been regular), seeing a doctor is advisable.
- Every girl will have different perceptions of what constitutes a heavy flow, but if she experiences significant leaking and or needs to change an average absorbancy pad or tampon more than once every one to two hours, then she may have genuinely heavy periods that may require further action. In addition, and especially for the non-meat eaters, if you notice her becoming more lethargic and fatigued, she should be checked for iron deficiency.
- It isn’t uncommon to experience cramping pains in the first day or two of the period. She may also experience bloating, a change in her stools, fatigue and mood changes. I would usually expect simple pain relief (paracetamol and anti-inflammatory medication) during this time to help with the physical symptoms and allow her to be relatively normal in terms of her activities. Anything more than this warrants a doctor’s visit.
Read more: Signs Your Period is Coming
Key take aways:
- Don’t be scared; this is a normal part of growing up and most girls manage perfectly well.
- Be prepared; start having the chat about periods before they start, and once they do, make sure she is armed with everything she needs with spares in every bag.
- Each girl and woman are different and so periods will also vary in lengths, timings, intervals and flows. But if something doesn’t seem right, do seek advice from her doctor.
When it comes to preparing for your daughter’s first period, talking is the first and most important step. Be open and honest, educate her on what to expect, remove any stigma and concerns, and empower her to handle the logistics.
More about Dr Natalie Hutchins
Dr Natalie Hutchins gained her medical degree from Imperial College, London, in 2006 and completed rotations in hospitals including St Mary’s Paddington, The Chelsea and Westminster and Charing Cross. She then spent four years as a specialist trainee in Obstetrics and Gynaecology inOxford, providing antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care for hundreds of women in the busy maternity units at the Royal Berkshire and John Radcliffe Hospitals. She became a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 2011