As someone who had my first period many years ago, I took a few things for granted as my daughters came of age. Consider that what seems rote to us women now is totally new to young girls. And some experiences are different during the first year of a girl’s period as her body is changing. Here are common questions your daughter might ask about this time and how to answer them.
What will having my period feel like?
It feels like blood trickling from your vagina but it’s less blood than it seems. The average woman loses around 6-8 teaspoons of blood during her period. Sometimes the blood can appear as clotted and other times it won’t. But given your body is new to this change and still developing, your period will probably be on the lighter side at first.
As your period is coming on, you’ll feel bloating in your lower stomach. Your breasts may feel tender, and you may also feel moody or irritable. You could experience pain from cramps, too. If that becomes uncomfortable, take an over the counter pain reliever like ibuprofen. Or put a heating pad on your stomach. These symptoms are all part of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and are totally normal.
Which products should I use and when?
Since having a period is a big life change to adjust to at first, it’s probably easiest for you to start with a pad. A pad is an oblong-shaped cotton insert with a sticky backing and you place it in your underwear. You should change pads as often as you need to according to your flow, but don’t wear a pad for longer than 6 hours. That way you’ll avoid odors due to bacteria that forms in your blood.
As for tampons, those are a cotton plug you insert in your vagina and most have an applicator that makes insertion easier. Tampons have a string that you leave outside your vagina so that you can remove the tampon later. A lot of women find that tampons feel more sanitary and they are great to wear when swimming or during athletic activity.
If you’re wearing a tampon, you should change it as often as you need to or every 3-5 hours. It’s very important to change tampons more frequently to avoid a condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which is potentially deadly. Another way to avoid TSS is to use the appropriate tampon absorbency based on your flow. In other words, don’t use a super absorbent tampon when your flow is light.
Using tampons can be a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of them, it’s not a big deal. I’m happy to explain in more detail how to use tampons whenever you’re ready. And whether you decide to use tampons or pads, you’ll want to get products with varying levels of absorbency so that you can use what you need based on your flow.
Menstrual cups are another product some women use to collect blood. These are a silicone cup that you insert in your vagina entirely. Menstrual cups are a convenient option because you can usually leave them in for longer than a tampon and the cups have more capacity for collecting blood. They’re also environmentally-friendly since you can reuse them, provided you clean them properly, for a long time.
But menstrual cups are definitely more of an expert level period product and you should try tampons before you graduate to this option. If and when you want to try a menstrual cup, I’m here to support you in that.
How often will my period come and how long will it last?
Over the course of a woman’s life, her period usually comes every 4-5 weeks and lasts about 5 days. But for your first year or longer, your period may not come as regularly. Life changes can impact the frequency or flow of your periods, too—things like stress, weight loss, illness, and increasing your exercise.
The Young Women’s Health website has this helpful guidance about periods in general: “The amount of blood flow you have will probably be different each day. You will usually have the most blood in the beginning of your period and the least towards the end. When you are first getting your period, you may have a very heavy period one cycle and very light one the next.”
In between periods, you may also experience spotting, which is light bleeding that’s less than the typical period flow. Spotting is normal and you don’t need to worry when this happens. But if you have questions when it happens, please ask me.
Should I keep track of my periods?
Yes, because as a woman goes through life, a regular period is a sign of health. When your cycle is irregular beyond your first few years, that could mean that something is wrong with your body. In that case, you should talk to your doctor.
Beyond that, understanding when your period starts and stops helps you predict it, which makes your life easier by helping you avoid surprises. Women also track their cycles for the purpose of understanding when they’re most fertile for conceiving children. Many apps nowadays record all this for you and help show you trends over time. I can help you find one or you can keep track of it in a journal too.
How can I know that what I’m experiencing is normal?
As you adjust to this life change, it will take time for you to figure out what’s normal and what’s not. Please don’t be afraid to ask me any questions when you’re unsure—I’m here to help! I also found a checklist on the Kids Health website that can help you understand when it’s time for you to be concerned:
- If you’re 15 and your period hasn’t started yet.
- Your period still isn’t regular after you’ve had it for more than 2 years.
- You have bleeding (more than spotting) between your periods.
- Your cramps are very bad and taking over the counter medication doesn’t help.
- You’re bleeding so heavily that blood soaks through a pad or tampon faster than an hour.
- Your periods last more than a week.
- You have extreme PMS symptoms that keep you from your regular activities.
Moms, Dads, Grandparents, and Caretakers: the girl you love will have so many questions before and during the first year of her period. This list of FAQs will serve you, but why not let us help you both through her first year and beyond?