Your First Period
Starting your period — or menstruation — is a major part of puberty. It means lots of other changes are going on throughout the month.
This is the place to find out and learn about menstruation! You will find the answers of your first period, take care your period and common period problems.
What is your period?
- What comes out during your period is the blood and tissue that build up as the lining of your uterus each month.
- Your period flow can be light, heavy, or in between. Sometimes menstrual blood also will be different shades of red, from light to dark.
- You may see some dark clumps or clots of blood, which is normal.
- Your period may be heavy the first day or so each time and then decrease on later days.
- Periods usually last between three and five days. It is normal to have periods that are shorter or longer, up to seven days. It is also normal if your periods are not the same number of days each month, especially in the first years.
At what age do you get your first period?
Usually, girls get their periods between ages 12 and 14, but it can happen years before or after that. Don’t worry if you get your period later or earlier than your friends get theirs — that happens a lot. If you haven’t gotten your period by age 15 (or within three years of when your breasts started to grow), talk to your parents or guardians, your doctor, or another adult you trust.
How will I know that my period is coming?
There may be signs such as the breasts becoming tender and the abdomen (tummy) may swell and feel uncomfortable. You might even feel tired and a bit moody and get a crampy feeling in the lower back, legs or tummy. Some girls get a bit grumpy and can get a little spotty a few days before their period is due to start. Gradually you will get to know your own signs and be prepared. It takes between 4 to 6 years for your menstrual pattern to become well established.
What causes your period?
Natural body chemicals, or hormones, cause your ovaries to release one egg about once a month. Most months, the egg and the lining of your uterus come out of your vagina as your period. This is part of your menstrual cycle.
This cycle is what makes it possible for a woman to have a baby. During sexual intercourse, the egg can get fertilized by a male’s sperm and then attach to the lining of the uterus and grow into a baby.
Does your period come each month?
Menstrual cycles take place over about one month (around 21 to 34 days), but each woman’s cycle is different. Many women have a cycle that lasts 28 days. The cycle includes not just your period, but the rise and fall of hormones and other body changes that take place over the month. Below is to show you what happens on each day of your menstrual cycle.
Your period begins and the flow is at its heaviest. You may have cramps, stomach pain, or lower back pain.
Your period still likely is heavy, and you may have cramps or stomach pain.
Your body removes the rest of the tissue in the uterus (womb). This sometimes can come out as dark clumps.
There is still some blood, but the cramps should be over.
The bleeding and pain usually are over.
Your body should feel great! Even though you don’t have your period, changes are still happening in your reproductive system.
Ovulation happens around this time. (Some women have cramps, but you likely won’t feel a thing when you ovulate.)
Hormone levels rise. At the same time, your breasts may be tender.
Your hormones are shifting, which can cause any or all of these symptoms:
- Tender or sore breasts
You may feel very emotional during this phase, but many young women do not have pain or mood changes at all.
A drop in hormone levels can cause you to feel tired, and you may feel like you need more time alone. You may start to get pimples around this time.
If you have PMS (premenstrual syndrome), you may have any or all of the following symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Worries about things that may not be important
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Breast pain
- Food cravings
- Trouble focusing
Important hormones are at very low levels, so you may have even stronger PMS symptoms. Symptoms may include:
- Mood swings
- Worries about things that may not be important
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Breast pain
- Food cravings
- Trouble focusing
This is the end of the menstrual cycle, and your hormone levels have gone way down. The lining of your womb gets ready to be shed during this time, and your body prepares to start the cycle again. Many women have cramps during this time, which can let you know that your period is about to begin.
Keep in mind that your periods may not be regular at first. You may have two in one month, or have a month without a period at all. Periods will become more regular in time.
To learn about your own pattern, it’s a good idea to keep track of your periods on a calendar. Why? A period calendar lets you:
- Get a sense of when to expect your next period
- Know if you missed a period (if it comes on a regular schedule)
- Have a record of your period schedule and when your last one came to share with your gynecologist or other health care provider
When you chart your cycle, remember that it starts with the first day of one period and goes until the first day of the next period.
Take Care Your Period
What should I use on my period?
You will need to use either sanitary pads or tampons to protect your underwear.
Sanitary pads fit inside your pants by means of a sticky strip, which keeps the pad in place. There are different types of pad and it is a matter of choice, which style you use. There are pads with and without wings. Some are for the earlier days of your period when the blood loss is heavier, and others for less heavy days towards the end of your period.
Tampons are also available in different sizes to suit the amount of blood lost during a period. Some tampons you insert using only your index finger, and other tampons have a cardboard or plastic applicator to help you to insert it into the vagina.
There are lots of products for taking care of your period. You might decide you like sanitary pads or tampons best. Or, you might decide to use pads sometimes and tampons or menstrual cups other times. Try different products to find the right ones for you.
It’s normal to feel nervous or shy about buying pads or tampons at first. But getting your period is a normal part of life. Need help? Ask your mom, older sister, or someone else you trust which products she likes.
Here’s some great advice about using products for your period: To stay safe, always follow the instructions on the packaging and wash your hands before and after use. And remember to shower or take a bath regularly during your period.
What you should know about pads?
- Pads stick to the inside of your underwear and soak up the blood that comes out through the vagina. A sticky strip holds them in place on your underwear.
- Some pads are thinner for days when your period is light, and some are thicker for when you are bleeding more. You can also use these thicker pads at night when you sleep.
- Check your pad every couple of hours during the day to see if it needs changing. You should change it before it is soaked with blood or starts to smell.
- No one can see that you are wearing a pad, so don’t worry about that.
- If you are concerned about any smell, changing pads often and keeping up good hygiene will help control this. You do not need to use deodorant or scented pads (which sometimes can irritate your skin or vagina).
- You can use a panty liner, which is a very thin pad, together with a tampon if you want extra protection. Or you can use a liner alone on light days.
- You probably don’t want to wear pads when you swim. They can soak up lots of water and get bulky, and then can leak when you get out of the water. You could try a tampon instead.
What you should know about tampons?
- A tampon goes inside your vagina to soak up blood before it leaves your body. Instructions come with tampons to show you how to put them in. Using tampons sometimes takes practice.
- Some tampons have a plastic or cardboard covering that makes it easier for you to put the tampon in. This is called the applicator. Do not leave the applicator inside your vagina.
- All tampons have a string at the end. This string helps you take the tampon out when it needs to be changed.
- You need to change your tampon at least every four to eight hours. If you think you might sleep for more than eight hours, it’s a good idea not to use a tampon overnight.
- Tampons will not get lost in your vagina or “slip up.”
- You can wear tampons when you swim. Water does not enter your vagina.
- If you have trouble putting in a tampon, you might try a smaller one or one with an applicator. If you really cannot get it in, you might see your doctor.
- It is very important to use the tampon with the lowest level of absorbency for your needs.
- On heavy days, you may need a “super” tampon, and as your flow gets lighter, you may need only a “regular” tampon. Or, you may need a “regular” tampon on heavy days, and then can switch to a “lite” tampon for lighter days.
- If you remove the tampon after four to eight hours and find that some white material is still showing, you should use a lower absorbency.
- If a tampon absorbs as much as it can before four hours, you might want to try a higher absorbency.
- Girls who have never had sex can use a tampon. You might try a “slender” tampon at first because they can be easier to put in. What about your virginity? Some people think having a torn hymen (the covering to the vagina) means you aren’t a virgin. Using a tampon might stretch or tear your hymen — or it might not. But doctors say that changes to your hymen do not mean you aren’t a virgin. Having sex means you aren’t a virgin.
- Scented tampons can cause irritation. It’s best not to use scented tampons. If you’re concerned about smell, make sure to wash daily and change your tampon regularly.
What is toxic shock syndrome (TSS)?
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a very rare but dangerous illness that affects your whole body. TSS is caused by certain types of bacteria that make poisons. Tampons may make it easier for bacteria to grow in your body, so read our info on using tampons safely. You can also get TSS if bacteria get into an open skin wound, so make sure to clean all wounds well with the help of an adult.
You could be at risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS) if you use tampons that are too absorbent or don’t change them often enough. You can avoid TSS by not using tampons at all, changing them often, or by switching back and forth between tampons and pads. The symptoms of TSS can be caused by many other illnesses, but make sure to tell an adult and call a doctor if you are using tampons and have the following:
- High fever that comes on all of a sudden
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Muscle pains
- Dizziness or fainting
- A rash that looks like sunburn
- Redness of eyes, mouth, and throat
- Strange vaginal discharge (fluid)
- A feeling of confusion
It is important to get medical help right away if you have any of the above symptoms after using a tampon.
Other ways to care for your period?
You may not know about alternative period products that are natural or reusable. Some girls choose items such as menstrual cups or reusable pads because they feel they are better for their bodies and for the environment.
- Menstrual cups. You put a small cup into your vagina to collect blood. Some cups are for one-time use. Others are emptied, washed well, and reused.
- Reusable pads. These are pads that are washed and reused. Usually, you would put a cloth pad into a liner that attaches to your underwear. You change the pad as needed and wash it according to the maker’s instructions. These pads are more expensive than disposable ones, but they save money over time because they last for years.
- Reusable menstrual sponges. These are natural sponges from the ocean floor. They work the same way tampons do. Just like with regular tampons, it may be possible to get toxic shock syndrome from sea sponges.
- Non-chlorine bleached all-cotton pads and tampons. These are disposable like regular tampons and pads, but they are made without chemicals. They are usually more expensive than other pads or tampons.
Your Period Problems
What is Period Problem?
It’s common to have cramps or feel uncomfortable when you have your period. And it’s common to sometimes have periods that don’t come on a regular schedule when you first start getting them. So how do you know when there’s a problem?
What are the signs of period problems?
One way to know if you may be having period problems is to learn what’s usual for you. Consider these questions:
- How painful are your cramps each month? Are they usually the same each time? If they get much worse, they may be a sign of a problem.
- How often do you get your period? How long does it last?
- What is your stress level like when you get your period? Are you just a little more stressed, or do you feel like you can’t cope at all?
- How heavy is your blood flow? You can tell how heavy it is by how many times you have to change your pads or tampons. If you see changes from what your period is usually like or if you need help with heavy bleeding, pain, or uncomfortable feelings, talk with your parents or guardians about seeing your doctor. Having answers to the questions above also can help when you talk to your doctor.
What can affect your period?
- Stress. If you are under a lot of stress, your periods might stop for a bit, but they usually begin again when your stress goes down.
- Exercise. Too much physical activity can cause your body fat to be very low, which can cause your periods to stop. This can happen if you are training hard for sports or if you work out a lot on your own. Being active usually is good for you, but if you are over-tired or get injured often, you may be overdoing it.
- Hormone problems. In a normal menstrual cycle, your hormones — or natural body chemicals — go up and down. Sometimes there are problems with hormones. One common hormone condition that causes period problems is PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. Read our information on PCOS for teens, and see your doctor if you think you may have PCOS.
- Major weight loss. Girls who have anorexia will often stop having periods.
When to see a doctor?
You should talk to your doctor or other trusted adult if any of the items on the list below are true for you. You may need to see your doctor.
- You have not gotten your period by the age of 15 or within three years of when your breasts started to grow
- It has been three months or more since your last period and you haven’t gotten it again
- You are bleeding for more days than usual or more than seven days
- Your bleeding is very heavy
- You suddenly feel sick after using tampons
- You bleed in between periods or with sex (more than just a few drops)
- You have very bad pain during your period
You should contact your doctor about period problems — and not just so you can feel more comfortable. Consider that:
- Period problems could be a sign of an important health issue. For example, strong pain during your period could be a sign of endometriosis (say: en-doh-mee-tree-OH-suhs), which happens when tissue from your uterus grows outside the uterus.
- Missing your period a few times in a row could be a sign of a serious problem. One type of problem affects your bones, since your bone health is related to hormones.
- If you’re sexually active, missing your period could be a sign of pregnancy. It’s important to go to the doctor right away if you think you might be pregnant.
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