Many women probably remember when and where they got their first period. A lot of us probably also wish we’d been a little more prepared.
If your daughter is approaching her first period, how can you help her be ready without embarrassing her -- and yourself? Make an action plan so you’re both ready.
Confront concerns. Your daughter is probably wondering what her period will feel like, how long it will last, and how she can take care of herself each month. Let her know that asking questions is OK, says pediatrician Cara Natterson, MD.
You can start with the basics: Explain that her first few periods will most likely be light, and they might not be regular in the beginning. The blood might be red, brown, or even blackish, and she should change her pad every 4 to 6 hours.
Dads, if this topic is outside your comfort zone, ask an older daughter or female relative to bring it up. Your daughter might be just as uncomfortable talking with you about her period as you are.
Make a period kit. Many girls fear they’ll get their first period at school or when they’re away from home. To help your daughter feel ready, buy a small zippered pouch and stock it with a couple of teen-size sanitary pads and a clean pair of underwear, Natterson says. Tell your daughter to keep the pouch with her at all times, and keep one with you, too, just in case.
Her kit can also be a way to deal with another of the biggest period fears: a leak. “Tell her that if her underwear gets soiled, she can just wrap it in toilet paper and throw it away in the little trash can in the bathroom stall” and use the clean pair in her kit, Natterson says.
Talk about tampons. While there’s no physical reason that most teen girls can’t use tampons from their first period on, Natterson feels it’s better for them to wait a few months. “Tampons are usually leagues beyond their emotional development at this point,” she says. If your daughter is very active, she may insist on trying them. In that case, review a diagram of female anatomy with her (either in a book or the leaflet in the tampon box) so she knows how to put one in.
“Girls are often afraid that the tampon will get lost inside of them,” Natterson says, “and it physically can’t. Showing them a diagram reassures them of this fact.”
But make sure she knows they should be changed every 4 hours to prevent leaks and infections. She can also wear a panty liner for extra protection. Be sure to choose a tampon that's labeled for teens -- they’re narrower than those for adults.
Call for backup. Period mishaps are bound to happen, so help your daughter pick a trusted adult she can ask for help if she’s away from home. It may be a coach, teacher, counselor, or a friend’s parent.
Also, teach girls to have each other’s backs, Natterson says. If your daughter thinks her friend is leaking, she should tell her -- and ask the friend to do the same.
Don’t focus too much on period problems. The idea of bleeding for a week each month is so overwhelming for girls that you don’t want to give them too much information up front about all the other “joys” of having a period, like bloating, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and acne, Natterson says. Besides, some of these symptoms won’t show up until a girl has had her period for a couple of years.
You can start by telling your daughter it’s normal for some girls to have cramps, back pain, or tender breasts before or during their periods. She can ease the pain by putting a heating pad on her lower belly or back, and taking nonprescription pain-relievers that contain ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.
Get to the doctor if there’s a problem. You'll want to tell your daughter’s doctor that she’s had her period at her next regular checkup.
See a doctor sooner if:
- She has pain when inserting or removing a tampon.
- Her periods come more often than every 21 days or are more than 45 days apart.
- She has very heavy periods or cramps that nonprescription pain relievers don’t help.