Let’s face it: navigating girls, puberty, and your daughter’s first period can be one of the more intimidating challenges faced by parents. Every parent feels some degree of uneasiness in discussing puberty and menstruation (having menstrual periods) with his or her daughter. Your little girl is growing up and becoming a woman – you can see the signs and want to prepare her for that day when she gets her first period. So how do you start the discussion? And more importantly, how do you become more comfortable with it?
Step 1 – Study Up!
Having the right information and knowing what really happens during menstruation is a helpful way to get over the taboo and confidently start talking about that first period. The better you know your “material,” the more comfortable you’ll be discussing it. There are many resources available, both in print and on the web, to help coach you through this teaching moment.
You’ll want to be prepared to discuss the following topics:
What is a period for, anyway? During puberty, a girl’s body undergoes changes due to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Every month, the body goes through a cycle where it prepares the uterus, or womb, for pregnancy. The monthly cycles of these hormones cause the lining of the uterus to shed when a girl does not become pregnant – then the cycle starts over! The shedding of that lining is what causes bleeding that usually lasts for 3-7 days.
What supplies should you have in the house, and how do you use them? The most common supplies are sanitary pads and tampons. Younger girls will most often use pads, which stick on the inside of her underwear. Pads should be changed every 3-4 hours to maintain clean hygiene. These pads come in different thicknesses – a medium absorbency pad is a good place to start.
Tampons are another option, although your daughter may not want to try tampons until she is comfortable with her cycles. A good age to start using tampons is around 13-14 years, but every girl will be different.
Start with the light absorbency tampons. Read the instructions – they can be very helpful and have useful pictures. The tampon is inserted with an applicator into the vagina (some brands come without an applicator – but try it with the applicator first).
The picture guides will be helpful for your daughter if she doesn’t know where her vagina is – but you can explain that the vagina is between her urethra (where she pees from) and her anus (where she poops from)! Correctly inserting a tampon may take practice. It should not be uncomfortable. The correct angle to insert the tampon is to point it back toward the tailbone. Tampons should be changed every 4-6 hours to prevent an illness called Toxic Shock Syndrome in which bacteria builds up and can make girls very sick.
Simple pain management. If your daughter complains of cramping with her periods, the best place to start is with 1 tab (200 mg) of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) taken every 6 hours as needed. This may be increased to 2 tabs if your daughter is at least 12 years old and 100 lbs. Always take ibuprofen with food to prevent stomach upset. If your daughter’s pain is interfering with her daily activities and an ibuprofen regimen is not helping, talk to your health care provider.
Keeping track of cycles/fertility. This will become important for older girls, especially who is considering becoming sexually active. In the first year of menstruation, cycles can be very irregular.
Girls are getting their periods at a younger age, so be selective about what your daughter needs to know at any stage. A 10 year old needs simpler information than a girl who is 14 or 15 years old. The key is to open communication channels, or have information available so they can absorb what they are ready for.
Remember to look at menstruation both from a physical and emotional standpoint. Your daughter may be feeling anxious due to other changes that come with puberty such as weight gain or moodiness. The best tone for your conversation will be sensitive and relaxed, but straight-forward.
Step 2 – Get Comfortable!
The more you talk about and think about menstruation the more ordinary it becomes. Practice the discussion on your spouse or good friends first, and then you may be able to bring it up with your daughter as if it is second nature.
Step 3 – Dive In and Have the Conversation!
Open the lines of communication – and keep them open. Your daughter may not be fully receptive to the conversation at first, but make sure she knows that she can always ask you questions. Chances are that she will relax a bit and come to you with questions once she has thought about it. The conversation will get easier each time – and you will have established an open, honest venue for discussion of so many more topics to come!
Navigating girls, puberty, and your daughter’s first period may never be easy, but it can become less intimidating with preparation. An added benefit: learning how to handle this challenging conversation should make subsequent ones a bit less stressful.