Getting your first menstrual period is one of the most visible signs that you are starting puberty. Puberty usually happens for girls some time between the ages of 9 and 16. There is nothing wrong with you if you get your period later or earlier 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. Your periods may also vary in color. Sometimes menstrual blood will be light red and sometimes, dark red. 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 (read more about reproduction), 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.
Not all women are the same in the number of days in between periods and how long periods last.
To learn about your own pattern or schedule, keep track of your periods on a calendar. Keeping track will help you to better know when to expect your next period.
How do I take care of my period?
There are two types of products that are designed for your period: sanitary pads and tampons. As tampons are deisigned to be inserted into the vagina, it is not permissible to wear these. No one can see that you are wearing a pad, although you may find some pads feel a little bulky. it is important to follow the instructions on the packaging and wash your hands before and after use.
It is okay 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 mother, or any other older female relative which sanitary products she uses to help you find your own.
Pads: 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. Some pads are also longer than others, for extra comfort and ease during 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.
Tampons: What you should know
- Tampons are put inside of your vagina to soak up blood before it leaves your body.
- 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 to help you take it out when it needs to be changed (at least every 4 to 8 hours).
- Tampons will not get lost in your vagina or "slip up."
- Tampons can be worn when swimming. Water does not enter the vagina.
- It is VERY important that if tampons are used the tampon with the lowest level of absorbency for your needs should be used. 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. Doctors 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.