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What causes menstruation?
Menstruation is a result of puberty. This is when your body becomes capable of reproduction. When your menstrual cycle begins, your estrogen levels increase. That causes the lining of your uterus to thicken. The uterine lining thickens so it can support a fertilized egg and develop into a pregnancy.
If there isn’t a fertilized egg, your body will break the lining down and push it out of your uterus. This results in bleeding — your menstrual period. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a period for years or you’re waiting for your first one — periods can be difficult to navigate.
When will I get my first period?
Most people start their periods between the ages of 12 and 13. It is normal to start your period a little earlier or later, too. As a general rule of thumb, menstruation will start about two years after your breasts begin to develop.
What signs should I look for?
Some people start their periods without any warning. Others may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in the days leading up to their period.
Symptoms of PMS include:
- abdominal bloating
- soreness in your breasts
- back pain
- feeling more tired than usual (fatigue)
- feeling extra emotional or irritable
- food cravings, especially for sweets
- clear or white vaginal discharge
You may find it helpful to carry a “period kit” in your bag so you’re not caught completely off guard when your period begins.
A period kit may include a:
- clean pair of underwear
- pad or tampon
- pain reliever
My period just started — what should I do?
If you’ve started your period and don’t have something to use for the blood, try not to worry. You can fashion a temporary pad out of toilet paper to hold things over until you’re able to get a proper pad or tampon.
- Take a long section (at least 10 squares) of toilet paper and fold the layers over each other.
- Place this where a pad would go — along the panel of fabric between your legs (called the gusset) that’s in the middle section of your underwear.
- Take another length of toilet paper and wrap it around the “pad” and your underwear a few times. This will help hold the tissue in place.
- Tuck the end of the tissue into the top of the finished wrap. You now have a makeshift pad.
If you’re at school, you may consider asking your teacher or nurse for a pad or tampon. They’ve been asked before — trust us.
How long will it last?
Your first period may only last a couple of days. It may take a couple of months for your period to settle into a regular schedule and consistency. Once it does, your period may last anywhere from two to seven days each month.
How much blood will I lose?
Although a person’s first few periods are often light — bringing a few spots of red-brown blood throughout the week — you may have a heavier flow. Your monthly period will follow a more consistent pattern once your hormones stabilize.
The average person loses up to 6 tablespoons of blood during menstruation. That may seem like a lot of blood, but it’s usually about 1/3 of a cup at most.
Heavier bleeding isn’t necessarily cause for concern. But if you feel like you’re losing too much blood, tell your guardian or talk to the school nurse.
You should also tell a trusted adult if you:
- have to change your pad, tampon, or menstrual cup every one to two hours
- feel lightheaded
- feel dizzy
- feel like your heart is racing
- have bleeding that lasts more than seven days
Your guardian or other adult may need to take you to see a doctor to talk about your symptoms.
The doctor can help determine whether you’re losing too much blood. They may be able to give you medication to help relieve your symptoms.
What can I use to stop the bleeding?
You have several different options you can use to stop the bleeding.
You may need to try a few different types before you find what works best for you.
You may also find that your needs change over time. What you use to manage your first couple of periods may be different from what you use after you become more comfortable with menstruation.
Period underwear is a relatively new invention. It’s like regular underwear, except it’s created with a special fabric that absorbs menstrual tissue and traps it within the fabric.
You can usually use one or two pairs throughout your entire period. Just make sure you wash them according to the manufacturer’s directions after each wear.
Different types have different levels of absorbency. If you have a lighter period, you may be able to rely on only these.
If you have a heavier period, you may enjoy using period underwear as a backup to prevent accidental leakage.
There are a ton of different brands out there, but they all work in a similar way.