Parental toolkit: Period GuideFreyja
February 27, 2023
When should you start talking about Periods?
Menstruation usually starts around 12-15 years old but can start as early as 8. That's why it's important to start talking to your children early. You may feel uncomfortable talking to your children about topics such as sex or menstruation, but if your child understands their body better then they will make better decisions surrounding their health and will help increase their overall understanding. When it comes to periods, you don't have to have one big talk with your child and then that's it. Rather you should try to build up the conversation over time. Start talking to them when they are young and then consistently build on their knowledge and understanding. Mensuration isn't just a talk to have if your child has a vagina. You should also educate your child on menstruation if they have a penis. Talk to all children regardless of their gender or sexuality. Over time you can provide them with more and more information. Look for natural moments to bring the subject up e.g. if they ask questions about the body or puberty if they ask where babies come from if you are at a store and buy sanitary products. It's better to talk to your child as soon as possible, as otherwise, they may pick up false truths from friends, which can cause anxiety and fear. A better understanding will keep your child well informed, prepared, and calm. Before you talk to your child try to do the following:
- Brush up on the facts of menstruation and have information readily available for your child to look at or read.
- If there's a question that you don't know the answer to, let your child know you will find out the information.
- Coordinate your conversations with the health lessons and sex education your child receives in school. Ask your child's teacher about his or her plans and for any advice.
During the menstrual cycle, hormones are released from different parts of the body to help control and prepare the body for pregnancy. That preparation begins when the ovaries (two oval-shaped organs that lie to the upper right and left of the uterus, or womb) produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones trigger certain changes in the endometrium (the lining of the uterus). Then, other hormones from the pituitary gland stimulate the maturing and release of the egg, or ovum, from the ovary. The release of the egg is called ovulation, and it occurs in the middle of the cycle --- usually day 14 of a 28-day cycle, for example. From the ovary, the egg moves into one of the fallopian tubes (the two tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus). If the egg is fertilized by sperm, the fertilized egg will take about 2 to 4 days to travel down the fallopian tube. It will then attach to the thick, blood-rich lining of the uterus. If it's not fertilized, the egg begins to fall apart, the estrogen and progesterone levels drop, and the uterine lining breaks down and is shed --- this bleeding is what's known as a period. For the first few years after menstruation begins, cycles are often irregular. They may be shorter (3 weeks) or longer (6 weeks), or a young woman may have only three or four periods a year. The absence of periods is called amenorrhea. A girl should see her doctor if she hasn't started menstruating by age 15, or 3 years after her first signs of puberty appeared.
Key Points and Questions:
Whilst the biology of menstruation is important for your children to know, they will also need to know some more of the practical points. Below are some key points and common questions you should discuss with your children.
- What is menstruation? Menstruation means the body is physically capable of becoming pregnant. In the first half of the menstrual cycle, levels of the hormone estrogen rise, making the lining of the uterus thicken. This lining will nourish a fertilized egg (embryo) if pregnancy occurs. As the lining grows, an egg in one of the ovaries starts to mature. At about day 14 of an average 28-day cycle, the egg leaves the ovary (ovulation). The egg travels through one of the fallopian tubes to the uterus. Pregnancy occurs if the egg is fertilized by a sperm cell and attaches to the uterine wall. If the egg isn't fertilized it breaks apart, hormone levels drop and the thickened lining of the uterus is shed through the vagina. This is a period.
- No one can tell exactly when a first period will occur. Typically, however, menstruation begins about two years after breasts begin to develop.
- The first few periods will likely be light --- with only a few spots of blood occurring. Most periods last from three to five days, but anywhere from two to seven days is normal.
- Common symptoms include cramps in the lower abdomen or back or breast tenderness just before and during periods. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea also are possible. Exercise, warm baths, a heating pad, or an over-the-counter pain reliever can help ease discomfort.
- Explain how to use sanitary pads, tampons, and menstrual cups and the importance of changing them regularly --- every four to eight hours for pads and tampons and every eight to 12 hours for menstrual cups. Stock the bathroom with various types of sanitary products ahead of time. Encourage your child to experiment to find the product that works best.
- Explain that pads, tampons, and menstrual cups aren't visible through clothing. Encourage yo12ur child to carry supplies in a backpack, purse, or locker just in case.
- Do girls need to douche or use deodorant spray when they have their periods? No. In fact, douching can increase a girl's possibility of infection by disrupting the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina.
- What's toxic shock syndrome (TSS)? TSS is a rare but serious bacterial infection that can be associated with tampon use. Fortunately, TSS that is associated with menstruation can almost always be prevented by changing tampons regularly and by using the smallest absorbancy needed (for example, "slender regular" instead of "super plus"). A reasonable precaution is to change tampons every 4 hours or more frequently if the blood flow is heavy.
- Do girls have to stop playing sports or swimming while they have their periods? Girls should understand they can do everything they normally would do --- as long as they're comfortable. For example, girls may choose to wear a tampon so they can continue to swim while menstruating.
What to do when your Child Starts Menstruating?
- Help them use sanitary products.
- Help them keep tabs on when their period has started, teach them to track it so they know when it will happen next.
- Get them a wash bag that they can put tampons in and keep in their school bag so that they always have products on them.
- Might want to get them a collection of underwear which is good for periods, one's where you won't be bothered if they get stained, etc.
- Assure them that they are not losing as much blood as they may think. On average you only lose about three tablespoons to a quarter of a cup.
- Also assure them that tampons will not get lost inside of you, as this is a fear that a lot of young people have.
- Male parents should be included in these talks too. They should make an effort to be supportive and understanding.
- Avoid focusing on the negative symptoms - focus more on how a period shows your body is happy and healthy.
- Tell them not to worry if their friends get their periods first. Everyone's body is different.
- It is common for teens to have irregular periods.
- Teach your child to track their periods.
Myths to Address:
- At school, your child may pick up a lot of myths about periods from friends and peers. That's why it's important that you address some of these myths with your child. Clarify the following points with your child:
- Tampons don't get lost in you.
- You don't lose a lot of blood
- Tampons don't break your virginity
- People can't tell if you're on your period.
- You can still do sports!
- Trans people and non-binary people can also have periods.
When should you take your child to a doctor?
You should take your child to a doctor for the following reasons (but not limited to):
- Hasn't started menstruating by age 15 or within three years of the start of breast growth --- or breasts haven't started to grow by age 13
- Goes three months without a period after beginning menstruation or suspects pregnancy
- Has periods that occur more frequently than every 21 days or less frequently than every 45 days
- Has periods that become irregular after having been regular
- Has periods that last more than seven days
- Has severe pain during periods
- Is bleeding between periods
- Is bleeding more heavily than usual or using more than one pad or tampon every one to two hours
- Suddenly gets a fever and feels sick after using a tampon
Below is a list of book recommendations for children and teens to learn about menstruation:
Period Power - Nadya Okamoto
The Care and Keeping of You - American Girl, Care Natterson (For 10-13-year-olds)
The Period Book - Karen Gravelle (10-14)
Go With the Flow - Karen Schneemann (10-14)
Have you started yet? You and your period: getting the facts straight - Ruth Thomson (10-14)
Welcoming Womanhood - Kate Waud
The Autism-Friendly Guide to Periods - Robyn Steward
Cycle Savvy - The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body - Toni Weschler
50 things you need to know about periods - Claire Baker
Periods Gone Public Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity - Jennifer Weiss-Wolf
I've Got my Period. So What? Clara Henry
It's Only Blood: shattering the Taboo of Menstruation - Anna Dahlqvist
Code Red: know your Flow, unlock your monthly superpowers and create a bloody amazing life. Period - Lisa Lister.
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