Girl Issues: Your Monthly Period
Getting your period is not just a right of passage for girls, it's a sign that your body is starting puberty and maturing into womanhood. Most young women get their periods between the ages of about 9 and 16 years, but some do get it earlier or later.
Getting your period can be a confusing time for a young woman, but by understanding the mechanics of menstruation, how to cope with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and the best ways to deal with your period you'll be better equipped for facing this monthly event. Talking it all over with your mother, an older sister or aunt, a teacher or your GP will help as well.
The Mechanics of MenstruationOnce you begin menstruating your ovaries will be stimulated (sort of like being turned on) by hormones and will take turns releasing an egg each month. These eggs travel through your fallopian tubes to your uterus where they will wait to be fertilised by a man's sperm.
In preparation for this fertilisation your uterus will build up a thick extra lining so that a fertilised egg can attach to it and a pregnancy can begin. When an egg is not fertilised, it and the extra lining drain from your body through your cervix and out of your vagina. When they leave the body they come out as a mucousy "blood". The appearance of this blood is commonly referred to as "menstruation" or "getting your period".
Your menstrual blood can be light or heavy, pale or dark. Usually it starts out a little bit heavier but then becomes lighter as your period continues. Most periods last between three and seven days, but women's periods can differ each month so don't be alarmed if one month is shorter or another month is longer. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but some women get their periods in fewer days and some women get them after a longer cycle.
In teenagers it is especially common that a menstrual cycle will take longer than 28 days. Keeping track of how long your average menstrual cycle lasts by marking off the first day of your period will help you begin to see your body's own patterns and allow you to estimate when to expect your next period.
Coping with Pre-Menstrual SyndromeThe week or so before they get their periods many women experience what is known as pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), sometimes otherwise known as pre-menstrual tension (PMT). A "syndrome" is a group of symptoms linked together, and common symptoms of PMS include acne (spots), swelling or tenderness of the breasts, tiredness, sleep disruptions, headaches, backaches, food cravings, mood swings, joint pain, muscle pain, memory disruptions, slight depression and cramps.
Cramps are usually a sign that your period is imminent, that it will be arriving within a few hours. Just as you can chart your period you can also chart your experiences of PMS so that in the future you'll know when to expect it and even how you will feel on each day. But just like your period, your PMS can change each month so don't worry if you don't feel exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. Each woman will experience PMS differently, but many find that changing their diet, using over the counter medications and applying heat to sore areas can be helpful during PMS.
Dealing with Your Monthly PeriodThere are two common methods for dealing with your monthly period: wearing a pad or wearing a tampon. A pad sticks to the inside of your underwear and catches your menstrual blood as it leaves your body. Pads come in an array of sizes, shapes and levels of absorbency so it might take you a few months to discover which pads work best on which days of your period. Pads need to be changed every few hours, and changing pads will help you from noticing any sort of smell.
Tampons are worn inside of your body, inserted into your vagina, so that they can catch your menstrual blood before it leaves your body. Tampons have strings on the end that hang out of your body and allow you to gently pull them out when you are ready to change them. Tampons should be changed at least every 4 to 5 hours, and since they are worn inside your body you can wear them while swimming. Experimenting with body pads and tampons will help you determine how you prefer to deal with your period.
Getting your monthly period is a sign that you are experiencing puberty. As you continue to develop you'll learn more about your own menstrual cycle and how you prefer to deal with PMS and menstruation. Remember, no two women will experience these events in the same way so don't worry about doing something wrong - you are the expert when it comes to your own body.