Your body is changing, your emotions are in a twist, it’s a whole new time of your life. It is completely normal to be anxious at the thought of your first period: will it show, will it smell, how will I know when to change my pad or tampon.
If you take note of the fact that this is something that happens to almost every single young girl you might feel less stressed. Nowadays many girls are much more relaxed about the subject and discuss it easily with their friends and their moms. Remember, it is a completely natural event that happens to almost all young girls and it is a very important part of becoming a woman.
So, let’s go through just what to expect
How old will I be?
The average age is between 11 and 16. Puberty is when your body starts to produce more hormones – natural chemicals in the body. These hormones lead the physical and emotional changes that take place.
You will have a growth spurt, and develop breast buds – the first sign that your breasts are beginning to grow. You will also grow pubic hair. At first it will be fine and straight but as you develop it becomes thicker and curlier.
Why do I have a period?
A girl is born with her full complement of eggs stored in her ovaries. Usually, one egg is released each month from the time of ovulation which occurs 14 days before the next menstrual period. At puberty, several events follow in a pre-programmed sequence under the influence of brain hormones, hormones from the pituitary gland, the adrenal glands and the ovaries.
The ovaries start functioning by producing eggs and hormones called oestrogens and progesterone which influence the body to take up the typical female shape and prepare various organs for a possible pregnancy.
Menarche (the start of your menstrual periods) is actually quite a late occurrence in this sequence of events.
Changes you can expect
A few days before you period starts you may notice some changes in your body and your emotions. This is called Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and is something that affects many women of all ages. It is because your body is awash with hormones. Your breasts may be sore or a bit bigger; you may have some pimples, have food cravings or find it hard to concentrate. You may also get stomach cramps and/or feel weepy and irritable.
Some people have very severe cramps. This is called dysmenorrhoea:
How to be prepared
It is very common to be nervous about not being prepared when your period starts. However, periods usually start with a light flow, giving you time to get a pad or tampon. (Once you know when to expect your period – usually about every 28 days - you can wear a panty liner on the days you think it will start – this will protect your clothing until you get proper protection.)
If you get caught unawares you can roll up some toilet paper or make a roll of tissues and wedge it in your panties. Ask your mom or someone you feel comfortable with to make sure you have panty liners and pads in the house. A lot of girls keep these in a little make-up pouch.
If you are at school and have no tampons or pads ask a teacher for help. Schools often have a supply to help out girls caught unawares.
The first period is usually very light - only a few spots of blood or a brown sticky stain.
During a period a small amount of menstrual fluid (mainly blood) flows slowly out of the vagina over a couple of days. The average amount produced over the entire time, is only 80ml or a third of teacup!
The blood flow is heaviest over the first few days and then becomes a trickle.
When you are menstruating, it is normal to see small clots of blood on the toilet paper after you urinate. This is because part of the menstrual cycle (involves the shedding of the lining (endometrium) from the uterus (also called a womb). The body is not pregnant, so it now has no use for much of the lining as it was only there for the egg to "nestle" into if you were pregnant.
Some people have very heavy blood flow. This is a condition called menorraghia.
How often will I have my period?
At first they may be quite irregular - you might skip one or two or have two very close together. After about two years things should settle down into a regular rhythm.The reason for this is that young girls after menarche do not necessarily ovulate right from the beginning, and it may take up to two years before their menstrual cycles with regular ovulations followed by menstruations become established.
A similar event in reversed order occurs in women close to their menopause. This is when ovulations become irregular although menstruations may still be at regular intervals for some months.
However, some women's periods are permanently irregular. Look at our article on irregular periods, for more symptoms and causes.
(Robyn von Geusau, Health24, February 2011)