Your first period

Your first period


Getting your period for the first time can often be filled with uncertainty and confusion. What does this mean for me? Am I normal? What should I expect? Having a better understanding of your period can help ease anxieties and worry. After all, no one ever benefited by knowing less about their bodies. You deserve to feel confident about the changes that your body experiences each month…period. No, it doesn’t need to be scary! So, let's dig into what you need to know.

When will I get my first period?

The age at which a person gets their first period can vary widely, but generally, people will start menstruating between the ages of 8 and 15 [1]. The average age is around 12, but it is important to note that every person's body is different, and there's no set timeline for when your first period will arrive. If you haven’t started your period by age 15, you should speak with your healthcare provider who may run some tests to check hormone levels.

Signs of the first period

There are a few signs that your period might be approaching:

  1. Breast Development: You may notice that your breasts are starting to grow and change shape.
  2. Hormonal changes: You may experience mood swings, acne, and other symptoms associated with hormonal changes in your body.
  3. Discharge: As your body prepares for menstruation, you may notice an increase in clear or white discharge from your vagina. This is completely normal and is your body's way of keeping the vagina clean and healthy.
  4. Pubic hair: You may notice that hair is starting to grow around your pubic area and also under your arms.
  5. Cramping: Some girls may experience cramping or bloating in the days leading up to their period.
  6. It's important to remember that everyone's body is different, and you may not experience all of these changes before your first period.

How much blood will there be?

It might seem a lot, but only around 3 to 5 tablespoons of blood (up to around 80 mls) is lost during each period [5]. Meaning, not really that much. On the first day or two of your periods, you can expect your flow to be on the heavier side. As your period continues, the flow should become progressively lighter.

What does period blood look like?

Periods come in a variety of colours. Yes, really! You might expect it to only be bright red, however, menstrual blood might also be much lighter or darker. For example, you may notice brown blood at the beginning or end of your periods. Totally normal. You can also expect to see some clots (or clumps). You can find more in our article about period blood.

It’s okay to talk about periods

Whether it is because it involves blood or reproductive organs (or both) or due to the many stigmas and misconceptions that surround them, many people just don't feel comfortable talking about their periods. But we need to stop hiding periods and speaking about them behind closed doors! Periods do not need to be kept secret, especially when you consider just how many people experience them. As someone who is getting their first periods, this is important to be aware of. They are certainly not embarrassing, dirty or shameful! They are a normal part of being a person with a uterus.

First-period stories:

Having your first period is different for everyone. We decided to put together a collection of first-period stories from some of us at Snuggs:

I was 13 years old and visiting New Zealand in a campervan with my family. Let me repeat…a campervan (not exactly much privacy, that’s for sure). During a dolphin diving expedition, I noticed some blood on my swimwear bottoms. My stomach dropped – for some reason getting my period felt like a bad thing, almost like the loss of my childhood. I went straight to tell my mum. To wash off the blood, she told me to just go for a swim in the ocean. In fact, she didn’t really make too much of a fuss about it all. I was thankful to have my best friend with me who could share in my horror. I didn’t really know much about periods or how to manage them at the time. And so, trying to figure out what menstrual products to use was difficult – trust me there were many leaks (and tears) along the way!

I got my period when I was 10. It was a weekday morning and I was supposed to go to school. My 25 year old sister was with me that morning to help me to get ready. When I went to the toilet, I noticed a red spot on my underwear. If I remember well, I wasn’t shocked or terrified, just a little bit confused, but I knew what was happening to me. I just shouted to my sister from the toilet that I think I got my period. She told me I became a woman and that I don’t have to go to school today and honestly, that was all that mattered to me - no school? Bring it on. Whatever it takes. The harder part was hiding my period at school as my teacher told me to - she said my classmates wouldn’t understand.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my period hit me for the first time, but what I remember clearly is the confusion I felt once I spotted blood on my panties after using the bathroom. Luckily, my mom was at home so I could talk to her. Less luckily, she was quite open to share this “news” with my dad, which felt very uncomfortable at that time. Talking about my period seemed like something very private that shouldn’t be shared with the public. And it took me some time to get settled with my own feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. Menstruation was a sensitive topic and despite all women experiencing it every month, nobody seemed comfortable talking about it openly. Well, except for the ads on TV which seemed like something not-to-be watched by kids. I can still recall how challenging it was to take out the pad from my bag at school, as secretly as possible, so nobody from my schoolmates noticed.

How long will my period last?

Your period can last anywhere up to 7 days [6]. However, variations in period length are common and this will likely change over your reproductive life. If you are regularly experiencing periods that last over 8 days in length, you should speak with your healthcare provider [7].

What menstrual products should I be using?

Choosing menstrual products can be confusing. What type should you pick? Well, this is totally up to you. There is no right or wrong product, it is about finding what feels best for you. Initially, this might involve a bit of experimentation. Some of the many options:

Period underwear – A period underwear product works like normal underwear, but can absorb menstrual flow, so you can wear it instead of tampons and pads. Cool right? There are many types of period underwear available that vary in absorbency. This ranges all the way from a light flow to extra heavy. A great benefit to this product is that they have been designed to look less bulky and feel like real underwear. Not only that, period underwear can be washed, re-worn and washed again - yippee for sustainable period products!

Pads – these vary in thickness. On the days when you have a lighter flow, you may choose to use a thinner pad, sometimes called a panty liner. On heavier days, there are thicker and more absorbent options. There are even pads for sleeping! Some people prefer using pads with wings that fold over the edges of their underwear which help to keep the pad in place, but this is a personal preference. There are also reusable pads that you can use and wash! Many choices!

Tampons – there are many different-sized tampons, some light, others regular and some super. Most people start off with light tampons but on heavier days, you may choose to change sizes. Some people also like to use tampon applicators. These are the same as your standard tampons but instead of inserting the tampon with your fingers, they come with either a plastic or cardboard applicator (a tube that holds the tampon) which is designed to help with insertion. Steps for inserting a tampon can be found here.

Menstrual cups – menstrual cups are similar to tampons in that they are inserted into the vagina. These are made of silicone and hold blood until emptied. They can also be reused.

What about leaks?

It is normal to feel worried about your period leaking through your clothing. If this does happen, don’t stress, pretty much all of us have been there. There is no shame in it! You can tie a jumper or sweater around your waist until you can go change and use some menstrual products. For this very reason, it can be helpful to always carry some emergency period supplies with you.

Can a tampon get lost inside me?

No, it can't. When you insert a tampon, it stays in your vagina. The only other opening is through your cervix (at the top of your vagina). But this is too small for a tampon to pass through. All tampons come with a string at one end that stays outside your body. You can remove the tampon at any time using this string.

Why do I feel cramps?

To expel the endometrium (lining of the uterus), the uterus contracts or squeezes. This is what creates the feeling of cramps. For some people, cramps may be mild while for others, these can feel intensely severe. But fear not, there are some measures you can take to relieve cramping such as using a hot water bottle/heating pad on your stomach and lower back, getting regular exercise and staying well hydrated. You may also choose to take some over-the-counter pain relief. If your cramps and period pains feel debilitating – meaning that you cannot go to school, fulfil social activities, or get out of bed (or if they impact your quality of life in other ways), speak with your healthcare provider.

It’s okay to talk about periods

Whether it is because it involves blood or reproductive organs (or both) or due to the many stigmas and misconceptions that surround them, many people just don't feel comfortable talking about their periods. But we need to stop hiding periods and speaking about them behind closed doors! Periods do not need to be kept secret, especially when you consider just how many people experience them. As someone who is getting their first periods, this is important to be aware of. They are certainly not embarrassing, dirty or shameful! They are a normal part of being a person with a uterus.

How to talk to your parents about your first period

It is completely normal to feel a bit nervous or unsure about how to talk to your parents about your first period. But remember, your parents care about you and want to support you through navigating this new experience. Here are a few tips that may help make the conversation a bit easier:

  1. Pick the right time: Choose a time when your parents are not too busy or stressed to have a conversation with you.
  2. Be honest and direct: Let them know that you have questions or concerns about your first period and that you would like their help and support.
  3. Use “I” statements: Instead of saying "You don't understand" or "You never told me," use "I" statements, such as "I am confused" or "I want to know more." This will make the conversation feel less confrontational and more collaborative.
  4. Remember that it's normal: Your parents have probably gone through this themselves, and they will understand how you're feeling.
  5. Follow up: Once you've had the conversation, make sure to follow up with them and let them know how things are going. This will help to keep the lines of communication open and ensure that you have ongoing support.

How to talk to your child about their first period

It can be a daunting task to start talking to your child about periods. But as a parent, it is your role and responsibility to ensure that your child feels prepared and comfortable as they go through this new (and often terrifying) experience. Here are a few tips to help break the ice.

  1. Start early: It's best to start having conversations about menstruation well before your child's first period is expected, so they have time to process the information and ask any questions they may have. Let your child know that you are there to support them, and that you will help them through this new experience.
  2. It isn’t one conversation: Good menstrual health education requires many evolving conversations. So, you don’t need to overwhelm them with all the information in one sitting. Try lots of small, bite-sized conversations.
  3. Use age-appropriate language: Make sure to use language that your child can understand, and avoid using technical terms. You might even try asking open ended questions and assessing what your child already knows - you might be surprised.
  4. Be open and honest: Let your child know that menstruation is a normal and natural part of growing up, and that it's nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of.
  5. Encourage questions: Let your child know that you are there to answer any questions they may have, and that it's ok if they don't understand everything right away. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that you will get back to them or better yet, look up the answer together.
  6. Provide reliable resources: Provide your child with resources such as books or websites that can provide additional information about menstruation and how to manage it. A great resource is Amaze and a helpful book is The Period Book by Karen Gravelle. These can be browsed at your child’s own convenience and you can use this as an opportunity to check in with them about whether they have any unanswered questions.

Some tips for young people on navigating first periods:

  • Use whatever menstrual product feels best for you, whether that be period underwear, pads, tampons or menstrual cups. Often this comes down to trial and error and slowly but surely, you will learn what works best for you.
  • Track your menstrual cycle – this can be incredibly helpful to get a better idea of what is normal for you and to understand what is happening to your body at different times of the month.
  • Be ready – particularly as you start your periods, it is more likely that they will be irregular. Meaning that they might make a surprise appearance from time to time. It can be helpful to be prepared by carrying some menstrual products in your bag, a change of clothing in case of leaks and anything that you might need to manage period pain.
  • Be kind to your body and remember to prioritise self-care – whether that may mean for you.

Have more questions?

We totally get it! It can be a confusing and daunting time when it comes to navigating periods. We are here for you, feel free to ask us any questions that you next want to be answered. You can also talk to someone in your life whom you trust or your healthcare provider.

References
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  • 2. Marshall IG, Norman RJ. Menstruation: where physiology, history and inequality meet. Fertil Steril. 2022;118(2):260-1.
  • 3. Kara Rogers Senior Editor BS. The Reproductive System: Britannica Educational Pub.; 2010.
  • 4. Bobel C, Lorber J. New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation: Rutgers University Press; 2010.
  • 5. Diaz A, Laufer MR, Breech LL. Menstruation in girls and adolescents: using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. Pediatrics. 2006;118(5):2245-50.
  • 6. Fraser IS, McCarron G, Markham R, Resta T. Blood and total fluid content of menstrual discharge. Obstet Gynecol. 1985;65(2):194-8.
  • 7. Munro MG, Critchley HO, Fraser IS. The FIGO systems for nomenclature and classification of causes of abnormal uterine bleeding in the reproductive years: who needs them? Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2012;207(4):259-65.
  • 8. Fraser IS, Critchley HO, Broder M, Munro MG. The FIGO recommendations on terminologies and definitions for normal and abnormal uterine bleeding. Semin Reprod Med. 2011;29(5):383-90.
  • 9. Ryu A, Kim TH. Premenstrual syndrome: A mini review. Maturitas. 2015;82(4):436-40.