Getting your child ready for their first period can seem daunting. A child might worry about leaks and how periods affect their sports, hobbies, and social life. They may feel embarrassed that their body is changing.
You’ll want to be honest that periods are different for everyone. But experts also advise against using negative terms. This can make the event more upsetting or scary as they look ahead to it.
Instead, you want to empower your child with tools and information. The more girls and boys know about menstruation, the easier it will be for them to deal with it. As your child may have many questions, it helps to have many talks, not just one.
Here are tips for explaining menstruation to your child and helping them prepare for their first period.
Normalize Periods From a Young Age
It helps to share information about periods when it comes up naturally, just like other topics. This reduces stigma around periods, or the idea that periods are shameful or gross.
If your child asks about a pad or why there’s blood on your underwear, honestly explain what is happening. For younger children, you can say that your body makes extra blood just in case you want to have a baby someday. As children grow up, you can explain in more detail and describe how the body releases an egg each month. This triggers the uterus lining to thicken with blood.
If sperm meets the egg and makes an embryo, the lining in the uterus helps the embryo grow into a baby. Without an embryo, hormones tell the uterus to shed the lining, which comes out as blood.
We often fear things we don’t understand. So explaining menstruation, and the reason behind it, helps children realize it is a healthy and normal process.
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Know the First Period Signs
Most children get their periods around age 12 or 13, but some girls get them as young as 9. You should see a doctor if your child hasn’t gotten her period by age 15. The doctor can make sure there isn’t a health issue behind the delay, like a genetic disorder or hormone problem.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) signs include bloating, mood swings, and cramps. But PMS signs usually become more obvious over time.
The first sign of puberty for girls is often ‘breast buds,’ which are small lumps just under the nipple. Usually, this happens one to two years before your child gets their period.
Another first period sign is mucus-like discharge from the vagina. Children may notice this occasionally on their underwear in the six months before their first period.
When you notice these signs, start preparing your child for their first period. Tell them that they might get their period in the next year. Explain that the blood comes very slowly at first, and others won’t know when they get their period.
Show your child where you keep period supplies and how a pad sticks to underwear. Talk about the different absorbancies of period products and how to pick the right one. Give them pads to carry in their bag if their first period comes when they’re not home.
Talk About the Range of Period Products
A first period can make kids feel a loss of control when it comes unexpectedly. Being able to choose their period products gives your child back a sense of control.
You can show the different period products at home and describe other options. Options include:
- Disposable pads.
- Reusable pads.
- Period underwear and swimsuits.
- Menstruation cups.
Explain how periods are often heavier at the beginning of the cycle and lighter at the end. This is why pads, tampons, and period underwear come in many absorbencies.
Most children and teens want to start with pads or period underwear, at least for the first few cycles. But it’s good for them to know about options they might want to use in the future.
If they want to use tampons, watch a video or read about using them correctly. Leaving a tampon in too long increases the risk of toxic shock syndrome, though this is extremely rare.
Explain How to Track a Period
The average cycle is 28 days long, but cycle lengths can vary from 21 to 45 days. Your child’s menstruation cycle might be irregular in the first few years. For example, they could have a 40-day cycle followed by a 25-day cycle.
Within a few years, your child’s cycle should become regular.
Young people should track their period using pen and paper, a calendar app, or a period tracking app. By looking back over many months, they will see if their cycles are becoming regular. Once their cycles are regular, recording their period each month will help them know when to expect their next period.
If your child’s cycle is shorter than 21 days or longer than 45 days, they should see a doctor. Hormonal imbalances, poor nutrition, and other health problems can cause cycles to be too short or too long.
Describe What to Expect for a Typical Period
Most people lose about three tablespoons of blood during their period. This knowledge can be relieving for kids. They realize that they’re not likely to soak through their clothes.
The first few periods are often light. Your child’s first period may only last two or three days. After a year, your child’s period will likely be five to seven days.
Some teens can get too heavy periods, putting them at risk of anemia (iron deficiency). If your child has to change a pad or ‘super’ tampon every hour, they should see a doctor. Likewise, they should seek medical advice if their periods last longer than seven days.
Periods should never be so painful that a person can’t do their normal activities. If your child is missing school or activities because of pain during their periods, they should see a specialist to be evaluated for things like endometriosis.
Stress That Periods Shouldn’t Cramp Their Lifestyle
Your child may wonder if they can still swim and play sports during their period. The answer is yes. Your child should be able to do everything they usually do.
Period swimsuits or waterproof pads can stop leaks during swims. Period underwear is less likely than pads to bunch up during exercise. Over time, your child may feel comfortable using tampons during physical activity.
If periods are disruptive, this could be a sign of a problem. Your child should see a doctor if their periods are very painful or heavy or cause severe anxiety or depression.
These could be signs of a hormonal problem, cyst, or other health problem.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Amenorrhea: Absence of periods. Link
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Heavy and abnormal periods. Link
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Your first period. Link
Nemours Kids Health. Talking to your child about periods. Link
Parents. 9 ways to prepare your child for their first period. Link
Planned Parenthood. How do I know if my menstrual cycle is normal? Link
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Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.