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Preparing for the First Menstruation
Is it time to talk to your daughter about menstruation? Maybe she’s heard something about it from her friends at school and has begun asking questions. Or perhaps she is showing the first signs of puberty and you have the feeling that her period is right around the corner. It’s important to have this discussion early, before your daughter’s first period arrives.
Before you sit down with your daughter, arm yourself with knowledge. You can get information from Kids Health or the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists websites. If you feel better talking to someone in person, consider making an appointment with your doctor or hers. It is important to have all the facts and anticipate some questions that your daughter may have. If you do not know the answer, it is best to say so, then help her find the information.
Your Daughter’s Period
On average, girls have their first period at age 12, but it can begin anytime between the ages of 8-15.
A couple of years before their first period, girls show other signs of puberty, including breast development, pubic hair growth, and growth spurts. So it’s important to talk to your daughter about her period early, before she becomes confused about these changes and before her period surprises or embarrasses her. The choice about when to talk to your daughter about her period is entirely up to you, but take into consideration that some girls get their period at an early age.
Talking to Your Daughter
Discussing your daughter’s period with her can be uncomfortable, especially in nontraditional families, where the father must take on this daunting task. But if you plan ahead, you’ll be surprised at how smoothly the conversation will go.
What is the best way to begin this discussion? First of all, it’s important to find a comfortable, private environment. Make sure you have enough time to cover the points you want to cover and answer any questions your daughter might have. If you find sitting down just to have one conversation is difficult and uncomfortable, start having multiple short talks that span over a longer period of time.
You could begin—if you’re a woman—by sharing the story of your first period. Tell your daughter when it happened, where you were, and how you felt at the time. An alternative starting point is to ask your daughter what she has already heard about puberty and menstruation.
After you have broken the ice, give your daughter some basic knowledge. Explain why women get periods. Rather than describing the complicated hormonal changes that occur, try to keep it simple. Explain that it is part of the menstrual cycle, which helps a woman’s body prepare for pregnancy. It is your daughter’s first major milestone in her journey toward womanhood.
Then, you’ll want to cover the main points in a clear, understanding manner. Before you sit down for this discussion, make a list of things you want to discuss. That way, you’ll be less likely to get sidetracked and miss something important. Below is a list to help you get started:
- Tell your daughter that most girls get their first period around age 12, but that it is not unusual to get it much earlier or much later. However, if your daughter has not started menstruating by the age of 15, consult her physician who can find out if another condition, such as pregnancy, an eating disorder, excessive exercising, or stress, is causing the delay of her period.
- Explain that many women experience premenstrual symptoms, including cramps, headaches, bloating, breast tenderness, and moodiness in the days leading up to their periods. She should know that these discomforts can be managed and will not interfere with normal activity, sports, or exercise.
- Some women experience pain around the mid-point of their menstrual cycle. This occurs during ovulation, when the egg is released from the ovary. The pain is generally short-lived, but can appear suddenly.
- Give your daughter an idea about how heavy and how long she can expect her periods to be. Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy. The duration of a period also varies. They typically last from 3-5 days, but anywhere from 2-7 days is considered normal.
- Inform your daughter that it is normal for periods to be very irregular during the first few years after menstruation begins. This irregularity can last up to 6 years, but is usually much less.
- Show your daughter how to use tampons and pads, and explain the benefits of each. Tell her she should change pads as often as necessary, before they are soaked. Tampons should be changed frequently. Leaving a tampon in too long can lead to a rare, but serious and sometimes deadly infection called toxic shock syndrome.
- Make sure your daughter understands that once a girl has her period, she can get pregnant. This may mean bringing up complicated topics like sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception for the first time with your daughter. But it is important that she understands the connection between menstruation and pregnancy.
Your daughter will appreciate some practical advice that will help her first few periods come and go more smoothly. Here are some tips you can give your daughter that will help her feel more prepared and avoid potential embarrassment:
- Keep a tampon or pad tucked away in your purse or backpack at all times.
- If you have an accident, don’t panic. Cold water gets out most bloodstains. In the meantime, tying a jacket or sweater around your waist will hide the stain.
- Learn to track your menstrual cycle with a calendar so you will know when to expect it.
- Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, or pain reliever such as acetaminophen, to manage premenstrual cramps and headaches.
Tell your daughter to alert you if she experiences any of the following:
- Bleeding for more than 7 days
- Bleeding excessively
- Bleeds between periods (more than just a few drops)
- Going 3 months without a period or thinks she may be pregnant
- Severe pain during her period
To prevent TSS, avoid using highly absorbant tampons. To reduce the risk of getting TSS, change tampons frequently and do not use them on a regular basis. If your daughter feels sick after using a tampon, has a fever, headache, or is vomiting, get her to an emergency room right away. TSS develops quickly and can be fatal.
Irregular menstrual cycles are normal during the first few years after your daughter begins menstruating. But these symptoms can also be warning signs of other conditions, so it’s a good idea to consult your daughter’s doctor if she experiences any of the above.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
ACOG Committee on Adolescent Health Care. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 349, November 2006: Menstruation in girls and adolescents: using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. Reaffirmed 2009. Obstet Gynecol. 2006. 108(5):1323-1328.
All about menstruation. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/teens/puberty-sexuality/all-about-menstruation.html. Updated October 2010. Accessed November 11, 2015.
Menstruation and the menstrual cycle fact sheet. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/menstruation.htmlhtml. Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed November 11, 2015.
Physical development in girls: What to expect. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Physical-Development-Girls-What-to-Expect.aspx. Updated August 20, 2015. Accessed November 11, 2015.
Talking to your child about menstruation. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/talk%5Fabout%5Fmenstruation.html. Updated October 2014. Accessed November 11, 2015.
Your first period (especially for teens). American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq049.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20140121T1424247430. Updated May 2015. Accessed November 11, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2015
- Update Date: 01/21/2014