Menstruation or periods is a normal phenomenon that all girls have to undergo throughout their reproductive life starting from their teenage. The beginning of this phase may not always be an easy one and for a majority of the girls, there is a lot of stress associated with the same.
A major reason for this stress is the lack of authentic information given to girls regarding menstruation. Many times, parents fail to understand that they must educate their daughters and even their sons ( who will eventually marry a girl! ) regarding menstrual hygiene. Most of the time this responsibility is shrugged over to the schools. Since teachers also are burdened with many other job responsibilities this critical topic takes a back seat. Teens may then resort to sources like the internet and peers for information.
At last, they end up either getting confused and scared about the monthly cycle or start seeing it as something dirty of which they are ashamed. This together with the taboos and myths related to menstruation, which circulate in every sector of society, adds to the stress that teenage girls go through when they get their first period. In this article, we will understand everything about menstruation, the first sign of periods, and menstrual hygiene. This article can be read by men and women alike!
Introduction: What is Menstruation?
In women, the fertile period starts at the menarche. Menarche is the time when a girl gets her first period. This marks the beginning of her becoming a woman in the sense that she can now give birth and reproduce. The menstrual cycle often begins at puberty between the ages of 8 years and 15 years (average age of 12 years) and continues till the woman is around 45 to 50 years of age. After this period the menstrual cycle stops and this phase is called menopause. The woman can no longer have babies once she reaches the age of menopause.
A menstrual cycle consists of natural changes that occur in a woman’s body every month in preparation for pregnancy. The cycle lasts an average of 28 days but may vary between 20 and 40 days.
The first day of a cycle is the first day when the period starts every month and the last day is that of the following period. A woman’s body undergoes many changes physically, physiologically as well as psychologically during the menstrual cycle. During this period there is an interplay between the hormones and other functions of the body. It is primarily the hormones that regulate the changes happening during the menstrual cycle.
There are four phases of the menstrual cycle. These are
- Follicular phase
- Luteal phase
Of these the three phases follicular, ovulation, and luteal phase are related to the changes which are happening inside the body and which are not visible. During these phases, the body prepares the woman’s uterus for any expected pregnancy. The uterus gets lined with a thick layer of blood cells to nourish the upcoming baby. This cyclically happens every month. Now, if pregnancy does not occur during that month the uterine lining is sloughed off and the bleeding starts. This is the visible menstruation phase.
Signs of the First Period
The body will start showing some peculiar signs when a teenage girl is about to start with her period. It is advised that teenage girls as well as their parents pay close attention to these signs. They will help in anticipating and preparing the teenager to accept her period more easily and comfortably.
- Hair growth – Hair growth will be visible in the underarms and around the pubic area. This growth is soft and smooth in the beginning and later becomes coarse. The teen can choose to trim the hair growth to keep these areas clean and hygienic.
- Breast development – Once a teenage girl hits puberty it takes 3 to 4 years for the breasts to develop fully. The first period can be expected approximately 2 years after breast development starts. Also, the breasts may feel tender to touch initially but this decreases over time.
- Vaginal discharge – Milky-white or yellowish watery fluid coming out of your vagina is usually the first sign that the period is on its way. This is normal and you have nothing to worry about.
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen – Teenagers may experience bloating and some pain in the lower abdomen and back before the first period. These are menstrual cramps and this sign varies among individuals. Some may experience severe symptoms while some may have milder symptoms. It is advised to consult a gynecologist if the pain is severe.
- Emotional changes – A teenage girl goes through many emotional changes during this phase and she may not understand why that is happening. The emotional changes range from irritability to sadness. Parents should understand her plight and support her fully during her period.
Points to Discuss
When we talk about periods, especially the first period, there are many questions and important considerations which must be taken into account. Educating a teenage girl regarding this over time will help her understand her body better. She will also be able to choose the menstrual hygiene product according to her comfort. We will try to address a few questions and queries in this section.
What products to choose for the first period?
Panty liners – It is a thin, absorbent pad that sticks to the underwear. This can be used in the beginning when a teen is anticipating her period to prevent spoiling of the underwear by the vaginal discharge. Also, during this phase, the amount of discharge or bleeding will not be in larger amount and so pantyliners will suffice.
Cloth – Although not preferred as it has high chances of staining, it is still used by many. The cloth is placed inside the underwear to absorb the period blood. This cloth needs to be sterilized and washed properly if it is to be used again or has to be disposed of. Those allergic to sanitary pads may use them.
There are two kinds of cloths — one is a ready-to-use cloth pad with absorbent layers inside the pad, and the other one is styled with extra inserts that are separate and comes with a holder that is placed on the underwear, while the insert goes in the holder. The right size of cloth pad should be chosen according to the period flow.
Sanitary pads – Sanitary pads or sanitary napkins are the most used period product. They are available in many types and the differences range from length to thickness and the capacity to absorb blood. Some of them have wings to prevent side leakage. Nowadays sticky sanitary pads are more popular. There is also another type that comes with a special elastic belt or a waist girdle with loops. This pad has an external bag-like covering with long flaps that can slide into the loops.
The sanitary pads are supposed to be changed every 4 to 8 hours and should be disposed of safely by wrapping the used pad in an old newspaper and throwing them into dustbins which are emptied daily. Never flush the sanitary pad down the toilet as it may cause clogging.
Tampons – Tampons are designed to absorb period blood by being inserted into the vagina. Some tampons come with applicator tubes to insert them in place while others need to be inserted with the fingers. A short string is attached at the end of the tampon which hangs outside the vagina and is used to remove the tampon after use.
Just as pads do, they come in different sizes. The choice of product size is related to your blood flow and has nothing to do with the size of the vagina. Doctors recommend using the lowest-absorbency tampon that will meet your personal needs and changing the tampon regularly every five to six hours. Leaving it inside for a long time is related to toxic shock syndrome.
Menstrual cups – A menstrual cup is a reusable period product made of rubber or silicon. It’s a small, flexible, funnel-shaped cup that is inserted into the vagina to catch and collect period fluid. Depending on how heavy your flow is, you can leave a menstrual cup in for up to 12 hours. They come in two forms disposable or reusable. If you use reusable cup sanitation of the cup should be taken care of.
Which is Better: Pads/Tampons?
In the beginning, when a teenage girl first starts with her period it is advisable to start with using a sanitary pad as the tampon or menstrual cup can cause her discomfort. She can later choose the product of her choice. Pads and tampons both have their distinct advantages and disadvantages. If the teen is into water sports it is better to use a tampon.
Period Cramps: What to do?
Period cramps are an inevitable feature of menstruation and majority of the girls will be affected by them. During menstruation, there is discomfort, tightness, and pain in the lower abdomen and back region and the severity varies from person to person. These crams can be relieved by simple over-the-counter pain killers but if they are very severe then it is recommended that you consult your gynaecologist for the same. Regular exercise also helps with period cramps. Similarly using a heating pad or bottle filled with hot water is beneficial.
What Is PMS?
Just before a period starts, some girls experience pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) which may include mood swings and irritability, bloating and tender breasts. Not all girls experience PMS symptoms and it may begin years after their first period. For those who do, rest, regular exercise, and a healthful diet can help manage their symptoms. Consequently, if a girl is angry, irritated, or sad does not mean that she is going to start with her periods.
Many girls may feel ashamed of their bodies when they start with their periods. The changes in their bodies both physical and mental may make them feel bad about themselves. The parents and teachers in school alike must educate teen girls and boys regarding period shaming.
It becomes necessary to tell them regarding periods as many taboos still exist in the Indian community regarding this topic. Girls are deemed to be impure and are refrained from coming inside the kitchen cooking food or attending any religious function. Many of the girls are ashamed to purchase or carry sanitary pads. These taboos should be addressed and backed with scientific facts and information.
Following tips can be kept in mind and taught to teens when they start with their first period.
Cleanliness during periods
It is important to keep your genital area clean when on your periods to help prevent infections. Take a shower every day. Wash your private parts with soap and water. Do not put soap inside your vagina. Dry yourself well with a clean towel, wiping from front to back. Use clean underwear and change it every day. Keep your period products in a clean plastic bag to keep them hygienic.
Period tracking is useful and it can help you in estimating your next period date. Usually, your period follows a pattern and will fall on the same date every month plus-minus 2 3 days. If this duration keeps changing quite a lot it is advisable to get yourself tested by a gynaecologist. There are online tracking apps that can be used. The first day you start bleeding is tracked as the first day of the period. The app then sends a reminder every month regarding when your period will start.
Pregnancy during periods
Although a woman can get pregnant on their period, it is unlikely. The chances of becoming pregnant on or just after the period end depend on when the sexual intercourse has taken place, the length of their menstrual cycle, and the exact day they ovulate during that menstrual cycle. Sex education is another important topic that teens need to be educated on during this phase.
Education and communication
Talk about your period with another woman like your friend, your sister, auntie, mother, or a female teacher. Talking and sharing experiences regarding the first period will help teens to cope with the bodily changes better. They will understand that it is a natural and normal phenomenon. This will help them to accept themselves and their monthly period.
Hope this guide helps you and your daughter with their first period. Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.
Author: Dr Pooja Nilgar (Content writer and editor)