The universal truism, there’s a first for everything, applies to a lot of things in life. Things we look forward to, and things we don’t. Some things, though, we simply have no control over. One thing that females have no control over, is their period.
Mandi has already told us about her first period and in this article, we’ll learn a bit more about Mandi’s period journey and learn from it. You might remember that she went to boarding school. What she didn’t mention, was that she was 15 when she started menstruating, and it caught her by surprise. It shouldn’t have, she says, and explains why.
Firstly, I went to boarding school when I was 12 years old. When I left home for the first time, my mother gathered all the things to go in the suitcase, and included sanitary pads. I didn’t understand and asked what they were for. She sat down and explained that at some point, I would get my period, and went into some detail about what to expect. I clean forgot about it.
Secondly, at boarding school, as the years progressed, the other girls all “came on” roughly once a month. That was mostly a mystery to me, and being a self-involved pre-adolescent, I didn’t pay attention. Really. Other than wishing I had breasts – and then bigger breasts – and for an excuse to escape mandatory swimming classes.
Why do girls start menstruating – get their period?
As humans grow up and develop, biologically, our bodies produce hormones. Males and females produce different hormones. In women, as their ovaries mature, they start to release estrogen and progesterone which signal to the womb that it should prepare for a possible pregnancy. The ovary releases an egg, and if it is not fertilized to make a baby,* the lining of the uterus breaks down. It is this broken-down lining that women bleed out of their vaginas when they have their periods.1
This also means that when you get your first period – and a little before – you are able to fall pregnant.
When do girls get their first period?
To answer this question, let’s look at what we can learn from Mandi’s story. Her mum knew that by the time she was 12, Mandi could be starting her period. When she got to boarding school, she discovered that some of her peers were already menstruating. Most girls get their first period when they’re about 12, but it depends on each individual girl’s body clock, and some girls start menstruating as young as 8. For some girls, like Mandi, it’s later.
Mandi’s story gives us a clue as to why this happens when she remembers that she wanted breasts – and bigger breasts. That her breasts hadn’t started to develop meant she hadn’t yet reached puberty. In other words, her body was not sexually mature, and she was not yet biologically an adult.
Other signs that you could soon be getting your period is if you have pubic hair and hair under your arms. Right on cue, Mandi’s first period arrived about two years after she got her first bra. Another sign that you should start expecting your first period, is when you start getting a white vaginal discharge – spots in your panties. It’s usually about a year after this starts happening that you will get your first period.2
What happens during and after my first period?
It’s hard to know how you will experience your first period. Some girls have very few physical signs like diarrhea and dizziness or even the severe pain that Mandi experiences. Some may have a few brown or black spots in their panties and very little bleeding. Their period could be over in a day or two, with the next one a few months later. Other girls can have heavier bleeding which decreases over five to seven days, with the next one a month later. Sometimes this is the pattern she will experience for the rest of her fertile life, sometimes it isn’t.
In other words, it’s hard to tell, but best to be prepared. On average, periods happen roughly every 28 or so days and can be as many as 45 days apart. Periods can last around five days but can also be longer or shorter. Over time, you will get to understand your own cycle and what is normal for you and your period.3
How do I get ready for my first period?
Part of getting ready for your first period is to talk to somebody you trust. Perhaps your mother or another woman who can help you to prepare for what you will experience. By doing this you won’t get such a fright when you discover blood in your panties and/or have period pain. Like Mandi, you can also prepare by making sure that you have a sanitary pad in your school bag.
What should I use? Pads, tampons, or menstrual cups?
Choosing the right product or products to use when you have your period, is a personal choice. Nobody can tell you what will work and be most comfortable. For some women and young girls, the decision is based on cost, while for others, it’s based on their concern for the planet.
When you have your first period, you may not want to insert a tampon or menstrual cup into your vagina. Also, if you are still physically small, at first, it may be uncomfortable. A tampon is a long piece of absorbent material that you dispose of when it has soaked up the menstrual blood. Not only can disposable tampons be expensive, but some include plastics and other products that are harmful to the environment. It’s also important to remember to remove the tampon because leaving it in could make you very sick with toxic shock syndrome.4
A menstrual cup, on the other hand, collects blood, and when you take it out of your vagina, you wash it and use it again. Menstrual cups can last many years.5
If inserting something into your vagina doesn’t work for you, you can use sanitary pads or sanitary towels. You put these absorbent pads on the panel (gusset) of your panties that goes between your legs. There are two broad types of pads: disposable pads and reusable ones. Like disposable tampons, disposable sanitary towels can be very expensive and contain plastics and other products that aren’t environmentally friendly. Reusable pads, on the other hand, are just as hygienic, and end up less expensive because you use them over, and over again.6 You can even make them yourself.7,8
Being prepared ahead of your first period means you won’t have to miss school or other daily activities when your periods start.
What if I have period pain?
Many girls have cramps with their period, especially in the first few days, and some like Mandi, suffer from really bad period pain. If cramps bother you, you can lie on your back and raise your legs to 90 degrees, or put a hot water bottle on your tummy.
If that doesn’t help, you can take an over-the-counter pain killer like Cipladon.
A word for the caregiver of the young girl with her first period
If your young daughter is experiencing some pain and discomfort with her first period and still struggles to swallow tablets, sweetened flavored Cipladon 500 is your solution. Children over 6 years old and who meet the weight requirements can safely take Cipladon 500.
Doses of paracetamol should be at least 4 hours apart and children can be given a maximum of 4 doses in a 24-hour period.
*If you are sexually active and wish to avoid pregnancy, please consult a health practitioner for contraceptive advice.
- Wood White, K (Reviewer) n.d. All About Periods,. emours Children’s Health [online] Available from < https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/menstruation.html> 23/12/2022
- Puberty. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine [Online] Available from < https://medlineplus.gov/puberty.html> 22/12/2022
- Your First Period The Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of Canada [Online] Available from < https://www.yourperiod.ca/normal-periods/your-first-period/> 22/12/2022
- Toxic shock syndrome. National Health Service, England [Online] Available from <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/toxic-shock-syndrome/> 22/12/2022
- Scaccia, A., Weatherspoon, D., (Reviewer) 2019. Everything You Need to Know About Using Menstrual Cups Healtline Media [Online] Available from <https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/menstrual-cup> 05/12/2022
- Kohli, S., 2020. Wondering if reusable cloth sanitary pads are hygienic? Here’s what a gyno says. Health Shots [Online] Available from < https://www.healthshots.com/intimate-health/menstruation/wondering-if-reusable-cloth-sanitary-pads-are-hygienic-heres-what-a-gyno-says/> 05/12/2022
- How’d they do that: Make a reusable menstrual pad. World Vision [Online] Available from < https://www.worldvision.org/gender-equality-news-stories/how-make-reusable-menstrual-pad> 22/12/2022
- Nieduzak, K., 2019. How to make your own reusable sanitary pads. Action Aid [Online] Available from < https://www.actionaid.org.uk/blog/2019/05/24/how-make-your-own-reusable-sanitary-pads > 22/12/2022