• Preparing for the First Menstruation

    Image for preparing for menstruation Is it time to talk to your daughter about menstruation? Maybe she’s heard something about it from her friends at school and has begun asking questions. Or perhaps she is showing the first signs of puberty and you have the feeling that her period is right around the corner. It’s important to have this discussion early, before your daughter’s first period arrives.

    Your Daughter’s Period

    On average, girls have their first period at age 12, but it can begin anytime between the ages of 8-15.
    A couple of years before their first period, girls show other signs of puberty, including pubic hair growth and breast development. So it’s important to talk to your daughter about her period early, before she becomes confused about these changes and before her period surprises or embarrasses her. The choice about when to talk to your daughter about her period is entirely up to you, but take into consideration that some girls get their period at an early age.

    Talking to Your Daughter

    Discussing your daughter’s period with her can be uncomfortable, especially in nontraditional families, where the father must take on this daunting task. But if you plan ahead, you’ll be surprised at how smoothly the conversation will go.
    What is the best way to begin this discussion? First of all, it’s important to find a comfortable, private environment. Make sure you have enough time to cover the points you want to cover and answer any questions your daughter might have.
    You could begin—if you’re a woman—by sharing the story of your first period. Tell your daughter when it happened, where you were, and how you felt at the time. An alternative starting point is to ask your daughter what she has already heard about puberty and menstruation.
    After you have broken the ice, give your daughter some basic knowledge. Explain why women get periods. Rather than describing the complicated hormonal changes that occur, try to keep it simple. Explain that it is part of the menstrual cycle, which helps a woman’s body prepare for pregnancy. It is your daughter’s first major milestone in her journey toward womanhood.
    Then, you’ll want to cover the main points in a clear, understanding manner. Before you sit down for this discussion, make a list of things you want to discuss. That way, you’ll be less likely to get sidetracked and miss something important. Below is a list to help you get started:
    • Tell your daughter that most girls get their first period around age 12, but that it is not unusual to get it much earlier or much later. However, if your daughter has not started menstruating by the age of 15, consult her physician who can find out if another condition, such as pregnancy, an eating disorder, excessive exercising, or stress, is causing the delay of her period.
    • Explain that many women experience premenstrual symptoms, including cramps, headaches, bloating, and moodiness in the days leading up to their periods.
    • Give your daughter an idea about how heavy and how long she can expect her periods to be. Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy. The duration of a period also varies. They typically last from 3-5 days, but anywhere from 2-7 days is considered normal.
    • Inform your daughter that it is normal for periods to be very irregular during the first few years after menstruation begins.
    • Show your daughter how to use tampons and pads, and explain the benefits of each. Tell her she should change pads as often as necessary, before they are soaked. Tampons should be changed at least every 4-8 hours. Leaving a tampon in too long can lead to a serious condition called toxic shock syndrome.
    • Make sure your daughter understands that once a girl has her period, she can get pregnant. This may mean bringing up complicated topics like sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception for the first time with your daughter. But it is important that she understands the connection between menstruation and pregnancy.

    Practical Advice

    Your daughter will appreciate some practical advice that will help her first few periods come and go more smoothly. Here are some tips you can give your daughter that will help her feel more prepared and avoid potential embarrassment:
    • Keep a tampon or pad tucked away in your purse or backpack at all times.
    • If you have an accident, don’t panic. Cold water gets out most bloodstains. In the meantime, tying a jacket or sweater around your waist will hide the stain.
    • Learn to track your menstrual cycle with a calendar so you will know when to expect it.
    • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (ie, ibuprofen ) or pain reliever (ie, acetaminophen ) to manage premenstrual cramps and headaches.
    Tell your daughter to alert you if she experiences any of the following:
    • Is bleeding for more than seven days
    • Is bleeding excessively
    • Feels sick after using tampons
    • Bleeds between periods (more than just a few drops)
    • Goes three months without a period or thinks she may be pregnant
    • Has severe pain during her period
    Irregular menstrual cycles are normal during the first few years after your daughter begins menstruating. But these symptoms can also be warning signs of other conditions, so it’s a good idea to consult your daughter’s doctor if she experiences any of the above.

    RESOURCES

    American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists http://www.acog.org/

    Women's Health.gov http://www.womenshealth.gov/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada http://www.sogc.org/index%5Fe.asp/

    Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca/

    References

    Menstruation and the menstrual cycle fact sheet. WomensHealth.gov website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/menstruation.cfm#i. Updated October 21, 2009. Accessed April 25, 2012.

    Period talk: Preparing your preteen for menstruation. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menstruation/FL00040 . Updated August 8, 2009. Accessed March 24, 2010.

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