It’s very important to begin to teach girls about the changes their bodies will go through during puberty – and especially menstruation – before they get their first period. But it is never too late to start! Girls often begin to menstruate between the ages of 9 and 16, with the average age being around 12. You can help your daughter understand what is happening before it happens. If you teach her that menstruation if a normal, healthy part of her life, she will feel a lot more comfortable and a lot less scared about growing into a woman.
You will find helpful facts, information and strategies in this section to help you negotiate this important time.
But to get you started, here are some quick tips:
- Start early. We often think of blood as a sign of something awful. So if your daughter doesn’t know what to expect, her first period could be a very frightening experience. Start talking about the changes that take place in a woman’s body (using language that is age appropriate) as she matures as normal and healthy.
- Take care of the basics. Teach her about what menstruation is and how it fits into the reproductive cycle. You can start with simple concepts (like a cycle, many children are already familiar with the concept of a cycle – such as the water cycle, the cycle of the seasons, a butterfly). Then you can add more information as your daughter grows and asks questions and needs more information.
- Be concrete. While girls need to know why their bodies are changing and what to expect, talking about menstruation as “a passage into womanhood” may be just a bit too abstract. Model what it is like having your period by talking about it when you have yours (while respecting privacy). Give concrete tips. Your daughter will want to know how to get rid of used pads, how often to change a pad or a tampon, what to do if her period comes when she is at school, what to do if she has cramps and how to take care of her clothes if she has a leak. It is also an important time to stress cleanliness and personal hygiene. Make sure she understands the importance of changing her tampon or pad regularly.
- Be positive. Menstruation is a part of being a woman. Your positive attitude towards menstruation as a normal bodily function can affect her own feelings about getting her period. Many women celebrate the first period as something special. If your daughter knows that you think it is an important step in growing up, she will have a more positive attitude towards menstruation and will probably be more willing to talk to you about any problems or questions she has. This is also a time where you daughter is developing her sense of what it means to be a woman. She may be worried about how having her period will change her, her activities and her relationships.
- Listen. Your daughter may have some of her facts wrong. There are a lot of myths and negative ideas out there about menstruation. If you listen to what your daughter is telling you, and ask her what she has already learned from her peers, you can help her weed out fact from fiction. Peers are an important influence during adolescence. If she gets her period ahead of her peers, or if most of her peers get their periods before her she may need reassurance that she is fine, that everyone is different and that her time will come.
- Help her listen to her body. Your daughter may have a different experience than you did with her period. You can teach her to notice the signs that mean her period is coming and how to deal with any pain or discomfort. You can also help her keep track of her cycle (while you track your own!) on the calendar.
Talking About Menstruation
If your daughter is approaching menstruation, you can make the whole process easier and more comfortable for her (and you!) by talking to her openly about what it means to have your “period.” Dads, don’t despair! You have an important role to play as well, either as a single Dad and the primary parent, or as a partner in guiding your daughter through puberty and adolescence.
While its important to know about the biology behind menstruation (the menstrual cycle), don’t let that be the only thing you talk about. Use language that your daughter can relate to and remember that many girls have concerns about all the little details (will I still be able to swim? Will it hurt? What do I do about the blood? Why haven’t I got my period yet, all my friends have it?) and how starting their period might change their lives and their relationships.
And just because you have talked about it, doesn’t mean that you’ve finished dealing with it! Knowing about your period and actually experiencing it can be two different things. Keep the doors open and look for opportunities to talk about menstruation, puberty and change.
Just for Dads
As a single parent or as a partner in your daughter’s development you have an important role to play. Menstruation is not just women’s business! Whether you like it or not, it’s your business too!
- Read and find out about puberty and menstruation. Get comfortable with what is going to happen. Be ready to answer questions or bring the topic up, if she is comfortable discussing it with you. Your attitude can either open or close doors.
- If you are a single Dad or the prime caregiver, it might be helpful to find some woman that your daughter trusts and is comfortable with to talk with her about puberty and menstruation. It might also help you have a back-up if you have any questions of your own.
- Check your behaviour and your actions. Be respectful – both towards the process of menstruation and your daughter’s comfort level in talking with you.
Just the facts
Menstruation (a period, or the time of bleeding) is one of the many signs that a girl is turning into a woman. The first period (called menarche) happens when all the parts of a girl’s reproductive system have matured and are working together.
When will my daughter get her first period? Most girls start menstruating between the ages of 9 and 16. Some get their periods when they are quite young, some when they already have a few years of high school behind them. This is normal. As a young girl begins to go through puberty, her body releases hormones that help get her ready to become pregnant. Her breasts begin to develop; she may develop pubic hair and have an increased amount of clear vaginal discharge. These are just signs that the inside of her body is changing as well.
What’s going on? Inside, your daughter’s body is getting ready for a possible pregnancy. Don’t panic! That’s just part of the whole process of growing up. Your daughter is starting her menstrual cycle [link to SOGC section on the menstrual cycle]. About once a month an egg leaves the ovaries, travels down the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. At the same time the lining of the uterus is becoming thicker to make a cushion for a potentially fertilized egg. If no egg is fertilized, the lining of the uterus begins to break down so it can be shed (along with the egg that was not fertilized). This is when menstrual bleeding begins. And then the cycle begins all over again.
How Often, How Long and How Much? A cycle is the time from the first day of bleeding in one month to the last day before bleeding in the next month. The first day of bleeding is Day 1 of a girl’s cycle.
How often will she get her period? A cycle usually lasts about 28 days (and can range from 21 to 36 days). But it takes a while before a girl’s body settles into a regular cycle and so it is very normal for young women have an irregular cycle during her first year of menstruating. A girl can have a 28 day cycle for 3 months, and then miss a month or have two periods close together. As a girl gets older and her periods settle down into a cycle that is normal for her, she will probably find that she can predict when her periods will come. Keeping a calendar [link to menstrual calendar created by SOGC] right from the start is a good habit to get into.
How long will it last? Some girls have a period that lasts just 2 or 3 days, others may have periods that last 7 days or longer. In the beginning it may change from cycle to cycle. This is normal.
How much blood will she lose? Any amount of blood looks like a lot, especially the first time you experience your period! You can assure your daughter that most women lose anywhere from a few spoonfuls to less than half a cup during the whole time they are bleeding. The amount of blood, the length of her period and the time between periods can differ from month to month and from woman to woman.
About The Menstrual Cycle
For the first 14 days of her menstrual cycle (14 days after you started “bleeding” from your last period), an egg starts ripening in the ovaries. Then, when the egg is ripe, it leaves the ovary and starts traveling down the fallopian tubes. At this same time, progesterone, which is a hormone produced in the ovary, works to line the uterus with blood and tissue to “cushion” an eventually fertilized egg. If a ripe egg does not become fertilized with a sperm while traveling down your fallopian tubes (this takes about seven days), it disintegrates and starts to shed. As the egg sheds, the uterine wall starts to break off, and they both flow out of the cervix and vagina in the form of “blood”(it’s not just blood). Voila! It’s Day 1 again, and the cycle starts to repeat.
It takes a few years for the body to adopt a regular pattern of menstruation, so don’t be surprised if her cycle is a little off schedule sometimes. It’s a good idea for her to start using a calendar to help predict when her period is going to begin each month. She may also want to keep a record of the day of her past period and any symptoms she may experience, like tender breasts, cramps, headaches, backaches, loss of sleep, fatigue, bloating, and acne. If her period is too heavy and painful, she may want to see your doctor or ask a pharmacist to suggest an over-the-counter medication.