Your Daughter's First Period
A girl’s first period is a pretty big deal. Although some women see it as a nuisance— an annoying thing that happens once a month—it still marks a milestone in a girl’s life. Menarche (the first period) signals her ability to conceive and someday bring life into this world. So it’s important to educate girls about what is actually happening in their bodies and what menstruation (a period) represents.
Here is a run-down on what your “menstruation talk” should include:
Understanding exactly what is happening in her body is important. It starts when hormones from the pituitary gland are secreted into her bloodstream. These hormones trigger the follicles (possible future eggs) in her ovaries to begin maturing.
Meanwhile, her ovaries are secreting greater amounts of a hormone called estrogen. Once estrogen reaches a certain peak, it triggers a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH). This tells the most mature follicle (future egg) to be released from the ovary (ovulation). This generally occurs 14 days before her next period.
This follicle, now called the corpus luteum (egg), will start secreting progesterone which causes the lining of her uterus to thicken. When the egg remains unfertilized, after about 10 days, it begins to degenerate and progesterone secretion trails off. This drop in progesterone is what tells her body to shed the thickened layer inside her uterus, thus starting her period.
A Healthy Cycle
A healthy, normal cycle ranges between 26-34 days. It’s common for women to have cycles that exceed these ranges (25-35 days), but this isn’t necessarily normal. Long cycles (35 days or more) could indicate issues with certain hormones.
A normal, healthy period consists of 4-6 days of bleeding. Longer bleeding, especially beyond one week, should be reported to a healthcare provider. Greater amounts of blood loss can indicate an issue with her reproductive health, but can also drop her iron levels very quickly.
On average, her flow will be 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of fluid, but can range between 10-80 mL.
The first period
The first period often starts as spotting, but is experienced differently by every girl. It takes a few cycles for hormones to regulate and to see consistency in her periods. The first two days tend to be the heaviest and flow should lighten thereafter.
Teach her how to track her cycles: there are some really great apps out there that can help girls keep track of and record their cycles. Day 1 is the first day of bleeding. Each day is counted until the start of her next period. She can also track her moods and any symptoms she’s experiencing.
Let her understand that she has options for menstrual hygiene: starting out, disposable pads may be the easiest option, but she’s not limited to the well-known advertised brands on commercials. Many drugstores and health food stores carry organic cotton pads and panty liners which are hypoallergenic, plastic-free, biodegradable, and chlorine-free (no dioxins). They are often more comfortable and softer on delicate skin. Brands available in Canada include Natracare and Organyc.
Reusable/washable pads come in different sizes, fun patterns and depending on how heavy her flow is, there are inserts for extra absorbency. After use, rinse well under cold water or let soak in cold water then machine wash and tumble dry. Reusable pads and panty liners are a great way to save money too. There are many brands to choose from.
Menstrual cups are also eco-friendly as they are reused and can last up to 10 years if properly cared for. There are definitely pros and cons— there are only 2 sizes and unless they are properly inserted they may leak. However, it is a great way to get familiar with the volume, colour, and consistency of flow. Best of all, you can swim with them in! No more worries about beach vacations or pool parties while on your period.
Tampons are viewed as easy and not as “messy” as using pads, but there are more cons than pros here. Being super absorbent, tampons will also absorb her natural vaginal secretions and mucous. This can leave her vaginal canal irritated, more prone to infections, and puts that delicate tissue into contact with whatever material the tampon is made of. If not changed frequently enough, she also runs the risk of developing Toxic-Shock Syndrome. This is an infection from bacteria sitting and growing in the moist tampon. If she insists on using tampons, advise her to use only those that are chlorine-free and plastic-free and to never leave it in longer than 8 hours. Natracare has a better tampon option.
Am I going to get PMS? Is my period supposed to hurt?
Knowing what is normal versus what is common is important. A normal healthy period should not be painful. Symptoms such as cramping, backaches, bloating, breast tenderness, irritability, or even rage may all be signs of unbalanced hormones. All of these can be treated by a naturopathic doctor using acupuncture, specific fatty acid supplementation, magnesium, dietary changes, and hormone modulating botanicals. Adding yoga, meditation and/or other physical activity is a great way to help prevent or relieve symptoms. Xenoestrogens such as parabens, phthalates, and petroleum products are hormone disruptors and should be avoided. They can be found in plastic containers, fragrances, skin care, and cosmetic products.
Is discharge normal?
Your daughter might notice that sometime between days 7 and 12, her vaginal discharge changes. This is her body’s way of preparing for ovulation. Cervical mucous becomes clear and sticky, similar to the consistency of raw egg-whites. At other times during her cycle she may experience a thin, white discharge. This is normal. The vaginal canal is a wonderful self-cleaning system. It is lined with a soft mucous membrane and is kept moist to protect the tissue. Releasing discharge is a way of removing bacteria and exfoliated vaginal epithelial cells. Any discharge that is a green colour, has a fishy odour, or causes extreme itching would all be considered not normal. Let her know to report any of those symptoms and see a healthcare provider for further investigation.
Having this conversation with your daughter before she has her first period can bring a sense of empowerment and understanding of her body. Many women are disconnected from the facts of their period, and may go for years disregarding the clues their body may be telling them about something that is not right. Sharing with your daughter what is normal and not normal and helping her choose better products to manage it encourages her to listen to those messages and trust in what her body is made to do.