18 May 2009

Your first period – what to expect

Although some girls eagerly await the onset of their periods, most girls feel anxious or afraid. But being prepared and knowing what to expect can be a big help.


Although some girls eagerly await the onset of their periods, most girls feel anxious or afraid. But being prepared and knowing what to expect can be a big help.

All girls go through it at one time or another – their first period. This is when blood passes out of the body through the vagina for 3-8 days. Your period, otherwise known as menstruation, is part of the menstrual cycle – a cycle that prepares your body for pregnancy each month. Many cultures celebrate the onset of a girl's period, as they believe it marks the beginning of womanhood.

Because we tend to associate blood with injury, however, your first period can be a frightening event. But try not to worry – it's a natural part of growing up.

Most girls get their first period between the ages of 11 and 14. However, it is perfectly normal for this to happen anytime between the ages of 9 and 16. And although it's not possible to know exactly when to expect it, keep a look out for these warning signs – they may indicate that it's almost time.

Signs to look out for
The onset of menstruation usually occurs about two years after a girl's breasts begin to develop and about four to six months after the growth of pubic and underarm hair. If you're at this stage of development, it's a good idea to keep a few sanitary pads or tampons in your bag so that you won't be caught off guard.

Most girls also notice moderate symptoms a few days before the start of their period. You may feel bloated and slightly uncomfortable, and you may experience headaches and back pain. Another common warning sign is abdominal cramping. This can be quite painful. However, many women and girls find that pain killers, or exercise, relieve discomfort.

Hormonal changes may also cause you to feel irritable, tearful, or tense. But this should pass after a day or two, so don't let it get to you.

What will it look like?
You will notice a blood spot on your underwear. This can be either brown or red, as the colour changes during different stages of your period. Bleeding is usually light at first, but your period will become heavier over the next couple of days, and then taper off again.

If you know what to look out for, you will have time to start using pads or tampons before bleeding becomes heavier.

I got my first period, now what?
At first you may not get your period every month, as it takes a while for hormones to regulate themselves. However, after a couple or years your period will become more regular and predictable.

Menstrual cycles begin with menstruation, and repeat every 21-35 days. This means that some women may have their period every 21 days, while others may only menstruate every 35 days. Chart the first day of your period on a calendar, so that as it becomes more regular you'll have a rough idea of when next to expect it.

Things you shouldn't worry about
You may get your first period during school time, which is why it's a good idea to keep a backup supply of sanitary pads or tampons. If, however, you aren't prepared, try to stay calm. Friends are usually the first port of call. And if they don't have any products on them either, the best thing to do is to go to the school nurse or secretary. This happens to girls all the time, so they will be able to assist you.

Some people claim that girls should only use tampons after they've been menstruating for at least a year. However, this is not true – use whatever you're comfortable with. It may be helpful to ask your mom or an older family member for advice or recommendations – that's what they're there for!

And finally, don't worry if your friends start menstruating before or after you. Every girl's body matures at its own pace.

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(Donna Warnett, Health24, February 2009)


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