Getting your period – or menstruating – for the first time is a pretty momentous occasion. For some, its arrival signifies a much anticipated entry into womanhood, but for others it can also be downright daunting – especially if you’re not sure what to expect, and don’t feel comfortable asking anyone about it. And since research shows that roughly half of teenage girls (and 1/3 of women aged between 18 and 24, for that matter) are too embarrassed to ask questions about periods and vaginal health*, we thought we’d find out the facts for you…
What is a period?
Every month your ovaries release a tiny egg. As your uterus gets ready to release the egg it builds up a protective lining. If you had sex and sperm entered your uterus, this egg could become a baby. If the egg doesn’t become a baby, the egg and lining are released from your body. This happens periodically – or about once a month. Which is where the name period comes from.
At what age can I expect to get my first period?
“Most girls menstruate (have a period) for the first time between the ages of 10-15 years,” says Sydney-based GP Dr Hilary-Anne Singer. “However it’s also quite normal for it to occur when you’re younger, or even up to the age of 17.” The age you start also depends a lot on your genetics (when did your mum start her periods?) and your body mass index. Since every woman’s body is different, chances are you won’t get your period at the exact same time as your friends, so don’t stress if you’re the first or the last in your group to get it!
How heavy will my period be?
A lot of girls worry about losing ‘too much’ blood during their period – but in actual fact you lose very little (on average it’s roughly 100ml). “Some girls will bleed heavily right from their very first period, while others may have very light periods,” Dr Singer advises. “You might even experience clots (where the blood is thicker and bright red or dark in colour.) This is all completely normal and can be expected.”
Note from bh: Keep a stash of CAREFREE® PROCOMFORT™ tampons in various absorbencies on hand so that you’re always well prepared, no matter how light or heavy your period might be. They’re available in Mini, Regular and Super, and are all designed with a special SILK-EASE® cover that makes them easy to insert and remove. Visit mycarefree.com.au to check out some tips on tampon use for first timers.
Will my periods be regular after my first period?
“You’ll get your periods roughly once a month, but it varies from person to person so don’t be worried if it’s not exact,” say the experts on mycarefree.com.au. Dr Singer agrees, adding that some girls may continue with a regular monthly cycle after their first period, but many will have their first and then won’t have another one for a few months. “It’s quite normal to have irregular cycles for the first few months or even a couple of years,” she says.
Is it normal if I experience ‘spotting’ or a discharge?
“Before a period starts each month there may be some premenstrual spotting, which is very light bleeding, or blood-tinged discharge,” Dr Singer advises. “After a few days the normal bleeding of your period will start. This is all quite normal and may or may not happen every cycle.” Likewise, vaginal discharge is perfectly normal and is the body’s way of keeping the vagina healthy. It’s generally white or transparent and can also be brown just after your period. If you experience anything else, see your doctor.
What else can I expect in regard to getting my period?
There are certain ways our body tells us that we’re about to get our period – they’re not always the most pleasant things to experience, but they’re completely normal and all part of being a woman. According to Dr Singer, these signs may include things like tender breasts, headaches, backache and abdominal pain, and oily skin and/or breakouts on the face, chest and/or back. You may also feel bloated and puffy, irritable, moody or emotional, and may experience an increased appetite, with cravings for sweet or ‘comfort’ foods. “Some girls may experience all or some of these symptoms, others may only know they are having a period when it arrives,” says Dr Singer.
*Independent Carefree Vaginal Health Survey, n=660 girls 13-24yrs.
Were you caught off guard when your first period arrived? What advice would you give to young girls awaiting theirs?