Periods – Guidance
Periods are a normal part of growing up for girls. The body starts to go through a number of changes including breast development, pubic hair growth and periods between the age of 8 and 15. On average, most girls start their periods around the age of 13 and stop them around the age of 51.
What happens during a period?
For up to a week each month, you will bleed from the vagina. Each month will be slightly different in the way the blood looks, the amount of blood and the amount of pain. It can be frightening, especially when periods first start and helping girls to understand what to expect is really important. The bleeding usually gets heavier for the first few days and then starts to get lighter. Blood loss overall is somewhere between 4 and 12 teaspoonfuls.
Sanitary towels, tampons or something else?
During your period, you will need to manage the blood loss. Most girls start with sanitary towels. These are placed in your underwear and absorb the blood. They can have little wings to help attach them to your underwear and stay in place. At night you may choose a thicker pad and you may have different sizes depending on how heavy your period is.
Tampons are absorbent products you can insert into the vagina, they are more convenient than pads, especially if you are very active. They need to be changed regularly, usually at least every 4 hours. You can use tampons whenever you start your periods but may need to practice with them first. They come in different sizes and it is advisable to use the smallest size you need. During your period you may find you use different sizes depending upon how heavy your bleed is. Some tampons come with an applicator. Other types are put in with your fingers. Find the one which is easiest for you.
Sometimes you may like to mix and match – for example, using tampons for swimming but pads at other times. For very heavy periods you may even need to use both together.
An alternative to towels and tampons is a menstrual cup. This is a reusable device, about two inches long which is made from soft medical-grade silicone. It is placed in the vagina. The cup collects menstrual blood. It is folded and inserted into the vagina, then removed. It can be rinsed and reinserted up to every eight hours. There are also special forms of underwear you can use instead of pads, tampons and cups.
Can you get pregnant during your period?
You can become pregnant if you have sex during your period, when you have a short cycle. Sperm lives for about 5 days so don’t rely on sex during your period as a contraceptive.
Do I have to avoid anything when I have a period?
No. Carry on as normal. If you find the periods painful, regular exercise sometimes helps. Periods are not dirty; they are a normal part of a woman’s life. You can go swimming, have a bath, etc. You may prefer to use tampons if you enjoy swimming.
What is the menstrual cycle?
Women have ovaries which produce female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone throughout the month. These hormones affect your bleeding pattern (menstrual cycle). Your period happens because your body sheds the uterine lining each month.
One menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. This often takes about 28 days and anything from 21 to 35 days is considered normal. The levels of hormones (chemical messengers) change throughout the month and this determines which part of your cycle you are in.
The menstrual cycle is split roughly into two halves:
The first half of your cycle is called the follicular or proliferative phase. The levels of your two main female hormones, oestrogen, and progesterone, are low and you shed the inner lining of your uterus. This causes your period.
A gland near your brain, the pituitary gland, produces a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone, this triggers the eggs in your ovaries to develop follicles around them. These follicles produce oestrogen and the amount in your body increases. The oestrogen thickens the uterine lining.
About halfway through your cycle, the follicle releases the egg it holds into the fallopian tube and it starts to travel to the uterus. If it meets sperm it can be fertilised.
The second half of the cycle is called the secretory or luteal phase. Once a follicle has released an egg it produces progesterone to make the uterine lining favourable for a fertilised egg to implant. If this doesn’t happen the levels of the hormones taper down and you will shed the uterine lining (have your next period.)
Most women regularly experience period pain, but it should not be severe. If your periods are becoming progressively more painful and heavy, it is a good idea to see your GP, especially if simple pain relief isn’t working. In general, if you have a change from your usual pattern that lasts for several periods, it may be abnormal. You should see a doctor if this occurs.
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