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Getting your First Menstrual Period

Getting your first menstrual period is one of the most visible signs that you are starting puberty. Puberty happens for girls between the ages of 9 and 16. Everyone is different when it comes to timing. There is nothing wrong with you if you get your period later than your friends get their periods. Read on to learn what you period actually is and how to deal with it.

What is it ?

The blood that leaves your body 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 somewhere in between. It may also be heavy the first day or so of your period, and then get lighter. Periods usually last between three and five days, but it is normal to have periods that are either shorter or longer. It is also normal if your periods are not the same number of days each month.

How does it happen ?

Your ovaries release or let go of one egg about once a month. If the egg does not become fertilized by male sperm, the egg and the lining of your uterus (endometrium) drain out of your vagina as your period. If the egg does become fertilized by male sperm (from sexual intercourse), it will attach itself to the lining of the uterus and grow into a baby.

When does it happen ?

Menstrual cycles take place over about one month (around 23 to 35 days), but each woman is different in the number of days this lasts. The cycle includes not just your period, but the rise and fall of hormones and other body changes that take place over the month. At first, your periods may not be regular; you may have two in one month, or have a month without a period at all. Periods will become more regular in time. Every woman is different in the number of days in between periods and how long periods last.

How do I take care of my period ?

There are two types of products you can use for your period: sanitary pads and tampons. You might decide one or the other is best for you, or you may want to use a combination of both. No one can see that you are wearing either a tampon or a pad, although you may find some pads to feel a little bulky. You just have to find the right products for you. Whichever ones you use, it is important to follow the instructions on the packaging and wash your hands before and after use.

It is normal to be shy about buying these items at the store, but getting your period is a normal part of life. Need help getting started? Ask your mom, guardian, or an older sister which sanitary products they use to help you find your own. It can also help to buy sanitary products with your mother/guardian or other trusted adult to make this experience easier. Remember, they have been doing this for years!

What you should know ?

  • Pads stick to the inside of your underwear and soak up the blood that leaves the vagina.
  • 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.
  • During the day, it is best to check your pad to see if it needs changing every couple of hours. It will need to be changed before it is soaked with blood.
  • 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 pads.
  • You can’t wear pads when you swim.

Tampons: What you should know

  • Tampons are put inside of your vagina to soak up blood before it leaves your body. Instructions come with tampon products to show you how to put them in.
  • Some tampons have a plastic or cardboard covering that makes it easier for you to put the tampon in.
  • All tampons have a string at the end to help you take it out when it needs to be changed (at least every 4 to 8 hours).
  • You can wear tampons when you swim.
  • It is VERY important that you use the tampon with the lowest level of absorbency for your needs. On the heavy days, you may need a “super” tampon and as your flow gets lighter, you may only need a “regular” tampon. Or, you may only need a “regular” tampon on your heavy days, and then can switch to a “junior” tampon for your lighter days. You will be able to tell what level of absorbency you need by how often you need to change your tampon.
  • Using tampons that are too absorbent or not changing them often enough can put you at risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). You can avoid TSS by not using tampons at all, changing them often, or by switching back and forth between tampons and pads. While the symptoms of TSS can be caused by many other illnesses, 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.
    • Muscle pains.
    • Dizziness or fainting.
    • A rash that looks like sunburn.
    • Bloodshot eyes.
    • Strange vaginal discharge (fluid).
    • Feeling of confusion.

Doctors treat TSS with antibiotics, and will examine your kidneys and liver to make sure they are working okay. They will also treat your rash to help you heal. It is important to get medical help right away if you have any of the above symptoms.

Problem Periods

Being uncomfortable or having cramps along with your period is very common. It is also common for your periods to be irregular sometimes, meaning you may not get it at the same time each month or at all some months. These things can happen and there may not necessarily be a problem, even though you might be uncomfortable or in pain. The tough thing is knowing when the things you are feeling are normal and when there is a problem. To make this easier, get to know yourself

  • How painful are your cramps each month? If you start to have cramps that are much worse than usual, talk to your parents/guardian about seeing a doctor.
  • What days of the month do you get your period? How long do they last?
  • What is your stress level like when you get your period? Are you a little more stressed around the time of your period, or do you feel like you can’t cope at all with school and family issues?
  • 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.

Answering these questions can help you figure out what your periods are usually like. If you are in pain or are not sure if what is happening with your period is a problem or not, talk with your parents/guardian about making an appointment to see your doctor. And having answers to the questions above can help you talk to your doctor about what you are dealing with.

What is 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 toxins – poisons – in your body. Tampons can make it easier for bacteria to get into your body. It is also possible to get TSS if bacteria get into an open wound. Make sure you clean all skin wounds and infections well, with the help of a parent/guardian.

What can affect my period ?

1. Stress

If you are under a lot of stress, your periods might stop for a bit, but they usually begin again when your stress level goes down.

2. Exercise

Too much exercise 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 such as ballet, gymnastics or long-distance running. It can also happen if you are exercising a lot in other ways on your own. It might seem confusing, since you often hear that exercise is good for you. It is good for you – as long as you don’t over-exercise. How do you know if you are exercising too much? If you are over-tired or get injured often, you may be over doing it.

3. Hormones

Hormones are special chemicals that your body makes. In a normal menstrual cycle, your hormones go up and down. Sometimes there are problems with hormones. A hormonal imbalance called PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome, keeps your hormone levels high, getting in the way of your cycle. If you have PCOS, your periods may not come every month, they may not come at all, or you may have bleeding in between periods. A problem with your pituitary gland can also affect your menstrual cycle. The pituitary gland makes hormones that impact other glands in the endocrine system (the body system that controls growth, sexual development, and metabolism).

When to see a doctor

You should talk to an adult you trust and/or see a doctor if you experience any of the following

  • You have not gotten your period by the age of 16.
  • Your period suddenly stops, and it has been three to six months and it hasn’t started again (and you know you aren’t pregnant, confirmed by a doctor’s pregnancy test or by not having had sexual intercourse).
  • You are bleeding for more days than you usually bleed for (abnormal bleeding that is different from your normal menstrual periods.
  • Your bleeding is very heavy (abnormal bleeding that is different from your normal menstrual periods.
  • You suddenly feel sick after using tampons.
  • You bleed in between periods (more than just a few drops) .