The life of a woman can be measured in terms of her menstrual life. A blossoming teenager, physically and mentally maturing. Then a young woman, sexually active and able to have children to a more mature lady dealing with the menopause. As women, it can feel like our lives and often our sexuality are dominated by our periods. Hence whether you are about to talk to your pre-teen about her first menstruation, which period products to choose, diet and lifestyle choices or are entering the unknown world of the menopause, this article will give you everything you need to know about periods.
What are you waiting for? Take control of your menstrual cycle and you will take control of your life. Read here for enough advice to span different generations of women and their periods. If you are interested in the diet, supplement, peri-menopause and menopause, keep reading. They appear after we examine the market of period products.
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What age do girls get their period?
A good place to start this conversation is at the very beginning. Which means looking at a girls first menstrual cycle. Do you remember yours? Or do you have a daughter entering this age? It can be a challenging time, for mothers and daughters alike! With raging hormones, both confusion and upset can reign in a household. Stick here for advice on everything you need to know about periods.
A girl’s period starts at approximately 12 years old. But please don’t take this as the same age for every girl. Mine started with I was not even 10! And some are late starters, anything up to 15. Wherever your daughter is is this range, there is no need to panic as a parent. However it is best to educate yourself and your daughter early so you both are prepared when the time comes.
As we all know, periods are bought on by a change of hormones in a young girl’s body. She has physically matured enough to begin the process necessary for her to have a baby. Now, every month her body will now go through the menstrual process. At the end of her cycle, she will shed the lining of her uterus in a period then start the whole cycle again.
Having been through this phase myself and also having worked in a school I know the panic and ignorance that often go hand in hand with girls at this time. The best way to help your daughter go through this with ease is to prepare her as much as possible. Which is why I have compiled a list below of the signs that your child may be coming up to having her first period. Then you will know to sit her down and have a chat.
Signs a girl is going to start her period
- Periods will start approximately two years after her breasts begin to develop
- She will start developing pubic, leg and armpit hair just before her first period
- She will go through a growth spurt before her first cycle
- In the few months leading up to her first period, she may experience clear or white vaginal discharge.
- Her stomach may become a little bloated and she may experience stomach cramps
Books on puberty for girls (talking to girls about puberty)
Although all girls and boys learn about puberty and sex as part of the school curriculum in the western world, it is always a good thing to sit down with your daughter and tell her your experiences so that she can ask questions and tell you her concerns. My first couple of periods were fairly traumatic to my young mind as I was not prepared so it’s best to try to address all questions before it happens. Often, children can feel embarrassed about talking to their parents about puberty so a good way of explaining menstruation to your daughter is to buy a book on puberty and leave it in their room. Then their questions will be informed and they will feel more relaxed.
- Girls book: Puberty, periods and all that stuff. This is for girls aged 7-13 and covers confidence, mood, pressures of growing up, periods and boyfriends.
- My Period Journal A diary for girls to note down details on their period flow, pain level, symptoms etc.
Types of period products available
Pads, as towels are commonly known, are the most widely used product for menstruation and are sold in all supermarkets and chemists.
They are often wrapped up in colored plastic. Once opened, you need to open the pad fully, take off the tape from the back of the pad that protects the sticky part and use the pad to cover the part of your underwear that you sit on. Most pads have side parts that are known as ‘wings’. These parts are meant to wrap around your underwear. They help keep the pad in place while you are wearing it and also help your underwear not get stained if you ‘leak’ over the pad.
Types of sanitary towels
There are different types of pads for you to buy for yourself or your daughter. Mostly, these depend on what stage you are at with your period. At the beginning of your monthly period, your flow will be at its heaviest so you will need the thickest pad, often called a ‘maxi-pad’. Towards the end, you could probably use what is typically called the ‘normal’ pad. There are also ‘night-time’ pads, which are thick and also long. A young girls menstrual flow is often irregular and can be quite heavy. To avoid any leakage, they may want to stick to the thicker pads.
Pads are commonly made out of cotton and latex. These are not flushable but should be disposed of in the sanitary bin that is provided in most public bathrooms. On average, you will probably use between three and four a day. As a mother who has seen girls panic at school, I would recommend giving your child more than needed for her day so she does not feel any fear about not having enough. It can be a difficult enough time enough without adding panic to the situation.
Organic sanitary towels
It is now possible to buy organic pads which are better for the environment and better for you. With the vast majority of sanitary towels being non-biodegradable, these produce a substantial threat to our environment and the world our young girls will grow up in.
Organic pads are also better health wise. What is not often talked about is that the chemicals in non -organic sanitary pads can promote infection and allergies. With organic pads, the lack of chemicals make it easier for the body to maintain its correct pH level. There is also a reduced risk of cervical cancer as you are no longer exposing your body to toxins or chemicals through your period product.
Cloth pads are similar to the above type of pads but are made from cloth. They are also worn in the underwear but are reusable menstrual pads and washable. If your daughter wishes to use these, then you need to provide her with some Ziploc bags to take to school where she can store the used ones. This keeps them damp until she gets home. Soak them in cold water to prevent staining then wash in hot water. Drying in the sunlight can help prevent bacteria forming.
A good idea would be to buy dark colored ones so that if stains do build up over time, they would not be as noticeable. Similar to the organic pads, these are also better for the environment as they are reusable. If we want our children to grow up taking care of the planet, we need to show them a good example.
A tampon is a small cylindrical object covered in plastic. When you need to use it, you take off the plastic, loosen the string at one end and insert it into the vaginal opening. It is important to tell your daughter about how far it should be inserted and to relax beforehand as it can be quite uncomfortable if it is not in far enough. Tampons expand to your shape which helps ensure absorbency so they can be reassured that they will only leak if left in for too long.
Tampons also come in different sizes for different times in your period. Light ones are meant for when you have a light flow. Regular is for your normal flow and are possibly best for beginners. Super are for those times you have a heavy menstrual flow. The important thing to remember is to take them out! Ideally, they should not be kept in for longer than a couple of hours and definitely not over night. This is because the tampon also absorbs bacteria which in turn changes the normal pH. This can increase the risk of infections which can lead to toxic shock syndrome. Although this is rare it can be life threatening.
Possibly, young girls should not be encouraged to use tampons. They are slightly more difficult to get used to using than sanitary pads but are also very easy to forget about. Which increases the chance of infection. They do mean that the young girl has the freedom to go swimming but she could also use cloth pads for this activity. Definitely something to think about.
Menstrual cups are made from either silicone, rubber or latex. They are regarded as safe to use by doctors. Like tampons, they take a small amount of time to learn how to use them properly. But once you are familiar with them they are easy to insert and take out. As they are reusable, they are much more environmentally friendly and are also more discreet than towels. Although more expensive than tampons, it is just an initial expense and would save a lot of money overall. However, they do need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after every use to prevent any risk of infection. They are, however definitely the green choice of period products. Learn how to insert a menstrual cup like a pro.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
So now your child will have an understanding of what period products there are for her to choose from when she reaches this stage in her life. She is on her way to learning everything there is to know about periods. Lets now look at what else can happen to a woman’s body during her menstrual cycle.
When a girl or woman is approaching that part in her menstrual cycle when she will have her period, she may experience PMS. Hormone levels change at this time as do neurotransmitters – chemicals in the brain. This can cause both physical and mental side effects, which is ‘premenstrual syndrome or PMS’. Most women experience a level of PMS at some stage in their lives, however the severity can vary wildly from woman to woman.
- Bloating around the stomach area
- Tender breasts
- Stomach / back pain
- Food cravings
- Mood swings
These are the most common symptoms of PMS but remember that not every woman will experience the same symptoms. It is important at this time that we listen to our bodies. PMS has a detrimental effect on some women’s lives so it is imperative we get to know how it effects us and explore any possible natural remedies for premenstrual syndrome before turning to medicine.
Create a diary
Create or buy a monthly planner that you can print out at the end of the month, then compare to the next month. The first most important part is to ensure you note yours or your daughters cycle, the start and finish date. This will show you if you are regular every month. This is especially important to fertility and PMS. Then, once that is noted, choose a different color pen or font and start noting down how you are feeling each day. Moods, depression, headaches, aches. Everything that your body and mind are telling you. Although the process may seem tedious, in a few months you will start to see correlations.
The worst course of action is to take pain medication without first listening to and respecting our bodies. Once you have your completed journal, you are better armed to battle your PMS and will know everything about periods. To research a game plan for your particular symptoms. There is nothing wrong with pain medication and it can be very useful during PMS but it can also mask the symptoms. If we don’t know our symptoms, how can we understand what to do in order to decrease or prevent them naturally?
Respect your body
The only way we can properly listen to our body is to respect it. How do we do this when it comes to our menstrual cycle? By listening to how it talks to us. I get period migraines which can be completely debilitating and have a detrimental effect on my life for a couple of days every month. When they started, I asked my doctor who gave me some pretty strong medicine. They worked for the first couple of months but they also made me feel sleepy and sick.
I then started researching and writing down when I had these migraines. Pretty soon, I worked out it centered around my period. More research showed that I had a lack of magnesium at that time of the month. So I started taking magnesium supplements a few days before I was due to start my period. It has really helped me and as a huge bonus it is completely natural. No more strong painkillers with side effects.
PMS does not require any specific medication. However, our bodies do respond to our lifestyle choices and with PMS it is no different.
- Reduce salt in your food as this will help reduce bloating and fluid retention.
- Think about the amount of caffeine you consume. Maybe think about switching to decaf or even try various herbal teas. Some are delicious and I am a hard and fast coffee drinker!
- Drink plenty of fluids. Noooo, coffee is NOT included in this. Water, water, water. Its good for you in so many ways.
- Think calcium rich. Foods high in calcium, such as yogurt and cheese can lower your chances of developing PMS.
- Head for the broccoli in the supermarket. This staple vegetable is packed with goodness, calcium, magnesium and potassium. All of which can help with the monthly hormone change.
- Need a snack? Head for the pumpkin seeds. These little beauties are fantastic. As well as being tasty, they offer us up to 75% of our daily dose of magnesium. This is perfect if you suffer from period headaches like me.
Supplements for PMS
It is always important to remember that supplements are not meant to replace good quality food. Rather, like their name, they are an extra to the healthy diet we should be having. Like many conditions, PMS can be made worse with an inadequate diet. Which is why the food section of this post is above the supplement one. But there is nothing wrong with supplementing our healthy diet to give our body a good chance of regulating hormones during our menstrual cycle. Once we know what our body craves, we know our periods.
As your levels of estrogen and progesterone are elevated during this time, your magnesium level is depleted. This mineral is first for me as I take it three days before my period is due to start. This is primarily because I get period headaches and I find it a miracle worker. It helps by relaxing your muscles which in turn helps regulate any mood swings.
This is probably the most common supplement for women who have heavy periods. As we loose iron rich ‘blood’, our iron levels dip. Mine did this when in my twenties, which led to many fainting episodes. Not something I enjoyed, so I started taking iron supplements. Lo and behold, no more fainting. You may even notice your energy levels increasing!
Found in fish oil, Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory. Due to this, regular consumption of this supplement will decrease period pain. As Omega 3 has such an essential role in the development of our central nervous system which includes our brain and emotions, this is a great supplement for PMS. Our brain is partly responsible for how our bodies respond to stress and lower inflammation rates are good for both body and brain. Can’t get any better than that.
Zinc is also an anti-inflammatory. Which, in theory should also lead to a decease of period pain. Surprisingly, in this case a zinc supplement is actually better for PMS than eating food rich in Zinc. Which is to do with how the mineral is broken down and absorbed in the body.
Looking to the future – Peri-menopause and menopause
A long way in the future for the young pre-teens reading this but maybe not for the mothers gathering information. The peri-menopause typically occurs several years before the menopause and is common in a woman’s 40’s. Again, this is an estimate and every woman will be different. This is another big stage in a woman’s life where she needs to pay attention to what her body is saying to her and adjust her diet and lifestyle accordingly. Although it is commonly seen as a ‘trial’, the menopause does not have to be. As with so many other times in our lives; if we look after ourselves, our bodies, brain and emotions will also treat us well.
The menopause is a topic in its own right and is consequently a post by itself. Women can react to this stage emotionally as it is portrayed as the ending of our fertility, which is a huge chapter in our lives. This does not have to be viewed as a negative thing as it so often is, but as ‘one door that is closing, another is widely opening’.
If you can sense that your body is changing in a way you do not recognise, look out for my next post on the menopause. This will be a part of every woman’s journey at some point. Lets educate ourselves and prepare for the future in the best, most hopeful way we can. Then we will truly have everything we need to know about periods.
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