Do you remember your first period? I do. Even though it has been many years since that fateful day, I can recall the experience as if it happened yesterday. I was 13 years old and walking home from school. Something felt odd as I took each step something wet.
When I got home I went straight to the bathroom to see what was going on. Sure enough, I had started my period. I was somewhat shocked, scared and panicky.
I was also a latchkey kid, so no one was home. After taking a few breadths and calming down I called my mother who was at work.
She talked me through the surprise and bewilderment of what was happening and told me how to use a sanitary pad. I had seen these things in the bathroom, but I didn't know what they were for. They were just mysterious little white cotton pads that I thought were some sort of strange plastic wrapped washcloth or maybe a super absorbent paper towel to use if you spilt something. I sat in my bedroom till she got home that evening.
Like a lot of young girls, I wasn't prepared for this life-changing event. My mom and I didn't have the preliminary conversation about menstruation; it just happened. She had probably planned on filling me in about why young girls have a period and what to do when it happens, but I got there before she did.
When should you start talking to your daughter about menstruation? Definitely before she has her first period. Believe me, waiting till then is not a good choice.
Menstruation goes hand in hand with puberty and the age of puberty is changing.
Recent studies suggest that girls and boys are entering puberty at younger ages than in years past. Some girls are developing breasts as young as 7 years old, however, puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
Puberty is when girls and boys begin to mature sexually. Typically in girls, breasts begin to grow or bud first, followed by pubic hair growth, arm pit hair and then menstruation. A growth spurt usually occurs as well. Since everyone's body is unique, these changes may happen in a different order with some young girls.
Menstruation usually begins about 2 years after puberty starts. To help a young girl understand what is happening to her body (and emotions!) its best to begin talking about puberty and periods before these changes start to happen.
Start the conversations about puberty early, around 8 years old. That may seem too young, but some girls are already looking at training bras at that age.
Instead of having The Talk all in one session, it might be better to start with short conversations about how your daughters body works. Too much information all at once can be overwhelming and a bit scary for a young child.
Answer questions openly and honestly. You may want to tell your daughter your personal story of puberty and periods. It seemed to help my daughter understand her own feelings a little better, and we laughed a lot as well.
Keep the conversation practical and natural. Have the bra conversation. Show her your own bras and talk about why you wear them, how they work and what it's like to wear them every day. Bra wearing comes with its own set of pros and cons.
Eventually, you'll need to explain what tampons or sanitary pads are and how and why they are used. Tampons are considered safe to use even when a girl starts her period; there doesn't have to be a transition stage from pad to tampons. However, some girls may find pads more comfortable or easier to use when they first start. Ask your daughter what she thinks she may prefer.
It's also very important that she knows that with periods comes the possibility of pregnancy. In fact, girls can get pregnant before they have their first period. Ovulation occurs prior to getting your period. So it is possible that a girl who has sex when she happens to be ovulating for the first time before she's had her first period- could get pregnant.
If you need assistance when talking about how the body works there are good books and DVDs for young girls and boys that lay it out in language and pictures that are age appropriate. There's also plenty of online information on medical or health sites.
In the meantime, let your daughter know that having periods is a normal part of being a female. They won't last forever, but they'll be around for a long time.
Periods may be inconsistent or they may show up like clockwork every month. It's very likely your daughter may experience cramps. She should know that's a possibility, but that there are over-the-counter medications that can help.
She should also know that girls can still do everything they normally do, like sports, swimming, horseback riding, running going to the mall- whatever they like to do while they are on their period.
Puberty and menstruation are life-changing events in a young girl's life. Believe me when I tell you, it's better to know what to expect when these doors open than to be surprised and wondering what the heck is going on.
So that your daughter is prepared when her body begins to change, start having those conversations early and often.