by Keisha Bell, MD, MS
When I think about the future conversations I’m not excited about having with my now 6 year-old, her menstrual cycle is 3rd on the list under death/dying and the birds and the bees. Across cultures, the “period talk” is probably one of the talks that is frequently ignored because it makes us uncomfortable. The period signifies a girls’ transition into young womanhood. This also means that your baby is growing up and can now bear children, which is the scariest part by far. When I think about it, however, I would rather that I have the conversation with my daughter about what to expect, rather than to have her be taught by her friends or not at all, which is worse.
So, what do we say? When, where and how do we have this conversation? The average age that most girls get their period is between ages 12 and 14, so age 11 or 12 is likely the best time to have the discussion. Try not to make it into a lecture, but more of an interactive discussion. You want her to be informed, not afraid. Explain that her period, or menstrual cycle, is a part of the process of puberty when her body begins to make hormones that cause changes in her body, as a whole. Some of these hormones also have an effect on her uterus, where babies live before they are born, causing the layer on the inside to get really thick. There’s a point within the cycle that those hormone levels change causing her to have her period (menstruation); the shedding of that lining, which is the blood that she’ll see. This will happen approximately every 28 days, lasting 2-7 days, but it may be irregular for about the first 6 months.
I suggest showing her sanitary napkins, panty liners and tampons, just so that she knows the options. Personally, I think its best that girls who are just starting their period start with sanitary napkins (preferably with wings). Use a pair of underwear to show her how to properly place the pad in her panties. Explain that she should change her pad every 4-8 hours. For completeness sake, you may also show her a tampon. Explain how it is inserted (read through the package insert) and that it should also be changed every 4-8 hours.
Finally, you may move into the topic of what to expect. Light vs. heavy flow, abdominal cramping, mood changes (PMS). Let her know that all of these things are normal and if she is experiencing significant cramping, there are medications such as Ibuprofen, Midol, Aleve and Pamprin which work great for alleviating that pain- just make sure you check with her doctor to make sure these are right for her. As far as the mood changes, explain that these are hormone related and normal.
Have an open door policy for your daughter to express what she’s feeling and use your own personal experiences and expertise to help her through that. Just be available and willing to discuss any and everything. That is probably the best advice I can give you. Look at this conversation as a chance to bond with your daughter. You, as her parent, are one of the most integral parts of her transition into womanhood and you want to be present, available and involved. Don’t allow your personal discomfort and fears keep you from guiding her through this special time in her life. Trust me, she will appreciate you greatly for it!
Keisha Bell, MD, MS
PGY-2 Resident Physician
Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology
University of Mississippi Medical Center