Most girls start their periods when they're about 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it's important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they're prepared.
Respond to questions or opportunities as they arise and do not be embarrassed. Periods are natural.
Talking about periods
Try to talk about periods as an ongoing process rather than a formal sit-down talk.
You can use TV ads for tampons, or buying sanitary towels at the supermarket, for example, to start the conversation about periods. Or simply ask your daughter what she already knows and go from there.
Use clear language, like 'vagina'. Emphasise that periods are completely normal and natural – they're part of growing up.
Boys also need to learn about periods. Talk to them in the same way as girls about the practicalities, mood changes that can come with periods, and the biological reason behind periods. It will keep them informed, as well as help them to understand about periods.
Here are some of the questions that you, as a parent, might get asked by girls about periods, with suggestions on how to answer them:
How will I know when my periods are going to start?
Signs that your period is on its way are if you've grown underarm and pubic hair. Typically, you'll start your periods about 2 years after your breasts start growing and about a year after getting a white vaginal discharge. The average girl will get her first period around 12 years old, but it varies from person to person.
Why have my periods not started yet?
Your periods will start when your body is ready. This is usually between age 10 and 16, or 2 years after your first signs of puberty.
Possible reasons for delayed periods include being underweight, doing lots of exercise (including dance, gymnastics and athletics), stress and a hormone imbalance.
See a GP if your periods have not started by age 16 (or 14 if you do not have any other signs of puberty). Your GP may suggest a blood test to check your hormone levels.
You may be referred to a specialist (usually a gynaecologist – a specialist in women's health) to find out what's causing your delayed periods and discuss any treatments that might help.
How do I get ready for my first period?
Talk to your parent or another adult you trust about what you can expect before it actually happens.
It's a good idea to start carrying sanitary pads or tampons around with you in advance.
If you find yourself at school without a pad or tampon, ask a teacher or the school nurse for some.
How long will my first period last?
Your first period might not last very long, as it can take your body some months to get into a regular pattern. As a general rule, once they're settled, you'll have a period every 28 to 30 days and it will last 3 to 7 days.
How much blood will I lose?
It might seem a lot, but it's only about 3 to 5 tablespoons. It's not a sudden gush – you'll just see a reddish-brown stain on your pants or on your sheets when you wake up in the morning.
What if period blood leaks through my clothes?
There are ways of covering up stains until you're able to change your clothes, such as tying a sweatshirt around your waist. Keep a spare pair of pants and tights at school or in your bag.
Should I use pads, tampons or menstrual cups?
This is up to you. Tampons, menstrual cups and pads (towels) are safe and suitable if you’ve just started your period. You might want to use pads for your very first period as tampons and cups can take some getting used to. It might be worth experimenting until you find the product that suits you best.
Can a tampon get lost inside me?
No, it can't. When you insert a tampon, it stays in your vagina. All tampons come with a string at one end that stays outside your body. You can remove the tampon at any time using this string.
Read the full answer to Can a tampon get lost inside me?
What if I forget to remove my tampon?
If you forget to remove your tampon, it can turn sideways or become compressed at the top of your vagina. This can make it difficult for you to pull it out. If you think you've left a tampon in and you can't get it out, go to your GP or nearest sexual health clinic. They can remove it for you.
Read the full answer to What if I forget to remove my tampon?
What is TSS?
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is caused by the bacterium Stapylococcus aureus, which is commonly found in the nose and vagina of normal healthy people. Most strains of the bacteria do not cause TSS, but some do. Some women do not have the antibodies to protect themselves against these toxic strains and this can lead to TSS.
How can I reduce the risk of TSS?
- Use the lowest absorbency tampon to control your flow
- Change your tampon every 4 to 6 hours
- If you use a tampon overnight, insert a new tampon before going to bed and change it as soon as you wake up
- Consider using a pad at night instead of a tampon
- Read the leaflet contained in every box of tampons for up-to-date information
What are the symptoms of TSS?
Some of the symptoms of TSS are much the same as the flu. You can become very ill, very quickly.
- High fever (>38degrees C)
- A rash that looks like sunburn
- Muscle aches
- Fainting or near fainting when standing up.
If you have any of these symptoms, remove your tampon and consult a doctor immediately, telling him/her that you have been using a tampon and are concerned about TSS.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name given to the physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms that can occur in the two weeks before a woman’s monthly period. It is also known as premenstrual tension (PMT). For more information please visit here.
- "Susan's Growing Up" is a picture book about periods that has been specially developed for people with learning disabilities. It's from the Books Beyond Words series from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- "The Period Book: Everything You Don't Want to Ask (But Need to Know)" by Karen Gravelle, and published by Piatkus, is a well-known book for any girl approaching puberty. It explains what to expect and how to cope with periods.