By educating your daughter about her menstrual cycle, her period, and how her hormones change throughout the month, you can help make her adolescent years less confusing. In this article we’re going to review how to prepare your daughter for her first period so you’re both well equipped.
For many parents, discussing periods with their children can be as awkward as discussing sex, although it really shouldn’t be because this is a normal part of being a human. Remember, a little awkwardness is better than going into puberty without knowing what to expect. And if you’re feeling this way, odds are it's because no one prepared you at this age. You now have an opportunity to do things differently for your child.
By having open, honest conversations with young women (and young men) about what periods are, what they mean, and how they work, you will remove the stigma attached to periods. You will also teach your daughter that there is nothing shameful happening when she bleeds each month.
1. Answer All Her Period Questions
If you are a mother, you have undoubtedly had several periods. Try to remember what a strange and confusing time it was for you, and then assure your daughter that no question is silly or off-limits. If you are a father, educate yourself first, and be ready to answer your daughter’s questions. If you feel that it would be helpful, call in a female friend or relative that your daughter trusts – with her permission, of course.
Yes, this may be uncomfortable. But it will be hugely beneficial to your daughter, who will learn invaluable information about her body. Additionally, by answering her questions and addressing her concerns yourself, you are ensuring that she is not getting all her information online and from friends, both of which can be inaccurate.
Of course, you’re welcome to share this article or any of the others you find on my website. Just don’t leave her with the burden of understanding it all.
The book Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!) by Sonya Renee Taylor is a body-positive resource that can help guide your conversations about growing up, and your daughter can refer to it whenever she’s feeling curious about what periods and puberty are all about. Many of our readers have recommended this book.
2. Listen To Her Experience
Her periods may not be like other people her age. Her periods may be nothing like yours. Listen to her about what her experience is like and believe her. Period problems are common, but they are not normal.
Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to think they should be extremely painful, PMS should be debilitating or that we should suffer through them. None of this is accurate and it’s up to us to change this for the future generation.
If she has symptoms that are abnormal then help her advocate for herself with her medical provider.
3. Clearly Explain PMS And What To Expect
PMS (premenstrual syndrome) affects about 75% of women. PMS has often been dismissed as a normal part of the menstrual cycle. However, PMS can be caused by hormonal imbalance, like estrogen excess or low progesterone.
Symptoms of PMS include:
- Problems sleeping
- Mood swings
- Cramps in the lower belly
- Tender breasts
Once again, it’s important to let your daughter know that she might experience all these symptoms, none of them, or different ones altogether. She may also experience them for a few days before her period starting, or up to a week before.
Severe PMS symptoms that come on a week or more before your period can be a sign of PMDD. PMDD is not the same as PMS and should not be ignored.
4. Have A Conversation About Period Symptoms
The standout feature of periods is bleeding. For the first few cycles, your daughter may bleed very little, and she might see more of a rust-colored blood rather than true red.
Have a conversation with her about the different colors of blood she might see during her period (red, brown, pink, etc.), and explain what is normal, and what she should be concerned about.
During her period, she may experience severe cramping in her lower abdomen. Many women experience period cramps, and the go-to for cramps is often NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
NSAIDs work by blocking prostaglandins (which cause the uterus to cramp). However, there are natural ways to help mitigate the effects of prostaglandins to help alleviate period pain.Of course, I do not want your daughter struggling with debilitating pain, so if she needs relief fast, NSAIDs can offer that. However, you can soothe pain with nutrients like magnesium, topical heat (like a heating pad or a warm bath), and dietary shifts.
5. Reassure Her About Period Mood Swings
For many women, mood swings come every month. From bursts of anger to uncontrollable crying — period mood swings can be stressful. Let your daughter know that she is not alone and that the mood swings will pass. If the mood swings persist or feel unmanageable for her, seek help.
6. Teach Her How To Use Tampons And Pads
Figuring out the best period products for your daughter depends on what she will be comfortable with. Tampons and pads are most commonly used, but menstrual cups and period underwear are also available.
Tampons are inserted into the vagina (either with the aid of an applicator or with the fingers). Once inside, they absorb period blood. Tampons should be changed regularly, in order to reduce the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). TSS is rare, but your daughter should be aware of it so that she knows how important it is to change her tampon regularly.
Changing a tampon every 4-8 hours is best practice.
Pads are attached to the underwear, and absorb blood as it leaves the vagina. Both disposable and reusable pads are available. All types of pads should be changed regularly. Pads are often the easiest feminine product to start with.
They are exactly what they sound like, underwear you wear on your period to catch menstrual blood. Often, they are best for lighter days. You may need to bring multiple pairs with you during the day and have a bag to place the used ones in.
Menstrual cups are silicone cups inserted into the vagina with the fingers. They are inserted in such a way as to create a seal. In this way, they catch period blood without leaks. Menstrual cups can be worn for about 12 hours, after which they need to be emptied, washed thoroughly, and placed back in the vagina.
There’s nothing wrong with using a menstrual cup from the get-go, but pads and tampons may be easier for a beginner to handle.
7. Teach Her How To Track Periods
By teaching your daughter how to track her menstrual cycles, you are giving her an invaluable tool. Tracking your menstrual cycle is a great way for women to become attuned to their body’s natural hormonal changes throughout the month.
Day one of the menstrual cycle is the first day your daughter sees blood. The length of the menstrual cycle is the number of days between each first sighting of blood.
To track her period, have your daughter make a note of:
- The date she first sees blood each month (this will help her keep track of how long her cycle is)
- How long she bleeds for
- Whether she is in any pain (and how bad the pain is)
- What other symptoms (such as acne or tender breasts) appear
- The color of the blood (e.g., red or dark brown)
- How heavy her flow is
- Whether there are blood clots larger than a quarter (which may indicate the need for a doctor’s visit)
This is also a good time to introduce the principles of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs). Now, I can just see parents’ eyebrows hitting the ceiling because FAMs are typically used as a means of preventing pregnancy without hormonal contraception.
FAM is actually a wonderful way for your daughter to work with her natural menstrual cycle, so she knows what is normal and healthy for her.
By teaching your daughter to be aware of where she is in her cycle, you are also teaching her what ovulation is, what it means, and what these signs are.
This is also a good time to explain that once periods begin, most women are entering their fertile years, which means pregnancy becomes a consideration.
8. Emphasize How Normal Periods Are
I cannot stress this enough. Periods have a stigma attached to them. You can see this in everyday life, in the women trying to hide the tampons in their shopping carts, powering through debilitating period pain at work with a strained smile, and the level of secrecy that still surrounds periods.
Let your daughter know that half the population has a period. It is a completely natural process, and is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s also a good idea to educate your sons about this, too, so they are sensitive to what their sisters and peers are going through on a monthly basis.
9. Reassure Her About Levels Of Period Pain And Flow
Period pains can be scary, especially for young women who may have never experienced a similar kind of pain before.
Let your daughter know that many women experience period pains, and that some level of discomfort is common for the large majority of women. However, emphasise that you should be alerted to debilitating pains, because this can be a symptom of endometriosis.
Likewise, explain to your daughter that she will likely bleed the most during the first two days of her period. Explain that a heavy flow does not equal bleeding through tampons or pads in just a couple of hours, or regularly bleeding onto her clothes. Abnormally heavy periods can also be a sign of endometriosis. Read more about what causes heavy periods and what to do about them here.
10. Share Some Hacks For Coping With Periods
Women have periods for a huge portion of their lives. Every woman has their own tricks for managing their time of the month, and passing these hacks onto young women can help them better navigate their periods.
Here are some hacks I would share:
- Have a heating pad or heated bean bag handy for period pain
- Always carry spare pads or tampons when you leave the house
- Nutrients such as magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the severity of period pain
- While we might crave processed sugar and refined carbs during our periods, these can make our periods more unpleasant. Try to eat loads of veggies, protein, and healthy fats instead. But no, chocolate isn’t optional for most of us (or is that just me?) and giving in to a craving isn’t the worst thing you could do.
- Practice good stress management (e.g., meditation)
11. Plan What To Do If Her First Period Happens Away From Home
If you suspect that your daughter is close to getting her first period, and think it might happen away from home (e.g., at school, while she is out with friends, etc.), come up with a plan to reduce the stress involved should this happen.
It might be a good idea for your daughter to carry a spare set of underwear to school, as well as pantyliners and pads (she might not know how to use a tampon, and will not have you to guide her if she is not home).
If you’re a parent, leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve found helpful in preparing your daughter for her first period.
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- ACOG. Your Changing Body: Puberty in Girls. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Bernardi M, Lazzeri L, Perelli F, Reis FM, Petraglia F. Dysmenorrhea and related disorders. F100Res. 2017. 6. 1645.
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- Your First Period.