Have you ever had questions about menstruation but weren’t sure exactly how—or who—to ask? It’s easy to understand why. Let’s face it: Even the word menstruation (which is just the longer version of “period”) sounds a bit mysterious and complicated.
The good news is that you’re definitely not alone. Lots of girls have questions about periods, like what is it, when it starts and what to expect. This month is National Teen Self-Esteem Month, so that means it’s the perfect time to talk about periods. Keep reading to find answers to your questions.
What is a Period & Why Do They Happen?
When you near the end of puberty, your body starts preparing itself for potential pregnancies. Your hormones—a.k.a. your body’s chemical messengers—cause your ovaries to release an egg, which travels to your uterus through your fallopian tubes. This is known as ovulation.
Meanwhile, the uterus has been getting ready for the egg’s arrival by building up a lining of blood and tissue. But if the egg is not fertilized, pregnancy doesn’t occur. Now your uterus needs to get rid of the lining, so the blood leaves your body through the vagina.
Usually a period lasts about five days from start to finish, but it can be longer or shorter. Known as the menstrual cycle, this process takes place about once a month. Keep in mind that it can take several years for your cycle to become regular.
What Should I Know Before I Get My First Period?
For most, periods start between ages 12 and 14. However, anywhere between ages 10 and 15 is typical. A number of factors determine when your period will start, including genetics and body type. As a general rule, girls often get their periods about two years after their breasts start to develop.
Often, your body will let you know when your period is about to start. Some common signs include:
- muscle aches
- tender breasts
- abdominal pain and cramping
- mood swings
When you are having your period, you can choose from several different types of supplies, including pads, tampons and menstrual cups. Many girls find pads easiest to use, especially when they are first starting their period. Pads come in a range of shapes and sizes to fit different body types, and simply stick to your underwear.
If you’re swimming or playing sports, tampons can be a good choice. These small cotton plugs are inserted with an applicator and absorb blood. You can wear a tampon for no longer than eight hours.
Menstrual cups offer another alternative. These flexible cups are made from silicone, and collect blood until you empty it out. You can use pads at the same time as menstrual cups and tampons for an added layer of protection.
What if I Don’t Have Supplies? Here’s What to Do!
Uh oh—what if you’re at school and your period starts unexpectedly? While it’s always a good idea to keep extra supplies in your backpack or locker, it can be easy to forget.
Luckily, you can always ask a friend to borrow supplies, and women’s bathrooms often have pad or tampon dispensers. If worst comes to worst, you can always use toilet paper or facial tissues to create a makeshift pad.
When Should I Talk to My Doctor?
If you’re experiencing extreme symptoms, such as severe cramps, excessive bleeding or nausea, consult your doctor immediately. Remember: everyone’s symptoms are different. Don’t be afraid to talk to your girlfriends or women you trust about your period. Even though experiences can be different, that can also mean maintaining a healthy period with medical help. It’s more common than you think!
Whether you haven’t started your period quite yet or are a first-timer, periods can seem a bit scary. Don’t stress: they are completely normal and your body is doing what it’s supposed to do.
As you continue to experience the menstrual cycle, you’ll discover which supplies are right for your body and learn the best ways to handle symptoms. It’s common to have questions about your period, and your doctor is here to help.