“So… tell me the story of getting your first period.” That was all I asked at the restaurant where I was having dinner with some moms.
These women were so eager to talk about this crazy memory from their adolescence. It was like swapping stories of car accidents, each topping the next with an “Oh yeah? You think that is wild? Wait till you hear this one!”
Turns out, becoming a woman rarely goes as expected.
“My mom went out and bought a multiple choice book about sex and sat me down and quizzed me. I remember my mother’s trembling hands as she read out the questions and choices:
A. A man’s penis urinates in a woman’s vagina
B. A man’s penis ejaculates in a woman’s vagina
C. Both A and B
I just listened in stunned silence hearing my nervous mother say these verboten words and I wanted to die!”
“I had two older sisters so my mom just arranged to have my sisters tell me everything.”
“My mom never told me anything, so when I started to bleed I thought I was dying of a hemorrhage.”
“I didn’t even know I had my period. I thought I soiled my panties. I didn’t know old blood was not red. Who tells you that?”
I chalked up these stories as being an indicator of how things shift each generation. I assumed my friends and I lived in a more conservative time. I felt sure that moms of today would be motivated to handle this major milestone.
However, I've discovered that some moms have gone in a whole other direction. Some are hosting parties to celebrate their daughter's first periods. And there are even companies that sell first period kits.
I promise you, there is middle ground between shame and renting out billboard ads. Given that this moment in your daughter’s life is going to be eventful in one way or another – let's make sure it's an event that will best help your daughter through this developmental milestone in her life.
Here are my tips to anchor your approach to making a good menses memory:
1. Your attitude is contagious, but a smile and a hug is sufficient to convey your positive emotions. “You are growing up! Exciting! Welcome to womanhood.”
2. Match your daughter’s personality. If she wants to be quiet and keep things on the down-low, follow her lead. If she is talkative and excited, share that enthusiasm, too.
3. Be honest. If you have difficulty discussing such topics, just say it: “My mother didn’t do a good job of preparing me, and I am afraid I don’t have much practice in this area, so sorry if I stumble and am nervous, too."
4. If you’re a dad and feel the gender issue is a barrier to good communication, ask your daughter if she would prefer to talk to a female aunt or friend of the family instead. That should be her choice – not yours. If she’d prefer to talk to you, muddle through. You’ll be fine.
5. Educate. If you have not discussed menstruation before, you have some educating to do. A good book can help, but you still need to be available to discuss what they are learning and answer their questions. And there should be lots of questions.
6. Help with the practical. Girls are afraid of accidents, especially if they are away from home. Make a little supply kit they can keep in their purse, locker or camp cabin that has some pads or tampons, wipes and a fresh pair of undies. Explain they can dispose of their old pair in a garbage can or the sanitary waste box in the bathroom stall if need be. Remind them to change their pads or tampons regularly (every four hours) so accidents are avoided. It’s good practice for healthy reasons, too.
Also, remind them that periods are usually fairly light (and erratic) the first year. Keep a cardigan or sweatshirt in your locker so if a leak comes through your clothes, you can hide it by tying your sweater around your waist. Discuss which teacher/coach/counsellor at the school they might seek out if they needed help in such a situation.
7. Many kids today want to use a tampon right away. That is fine. Be sure to buy the right size and explain how to insert it from the pictures on the package. Take one apart first so they see how the applicator works and how to properly dispose of the applicator and used tampons.
Many girls fear losing a tampon inside, but if you draw their anatomy or Google a picture, they can see it is impossible. Though, some people can forget they have a tampon in.
8. Minimize fears while being truthful. Yes, they may have some cramps and aches, bloating or acne, but all those worries can be dealt with as they arise. Young girls don’t need the added stress of hearing about all the complications that may (or may not) come with menstruation.
9. Womanhood means the ability to get pregnant. If you have not started talking about sex, you will have to begin now for sure. You don’t have to have ALL this information and all these topics covered in one discussion. That would be overwhelming for you both, but you have a responsibility to let them know that if they are sexually active they could become pregnant and they need to use birth control.
Many opt to go on birth control to help with menstrual issues. Time to talk to the family doctor and it's time to stop attending your child’s physical. They need to have privacy with their doctor now for the best chance of open communication.
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According to Dr. Suzanne Wong of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto, and associate professor at the University of Toronto Department of Medicine, there a several reasons as to why you can get an extremely heavy period. "Periods can be heavy in women with a diagnosis of uterine fibroids or polyps or a thickened uterus called Adenomyosis," Wong tells The Huffington Post Canada. Heavy bleeding has also been associated with a genetic bleeding condition called "von willebrand’s disease" in adolescence. Both scenarios should be examined by your doctor. Perimenopausal hormone shifts can also cause heavy bleeding in women between the ages of 41 and 51. Wong notes that periods during perimenopause may also be irregular before they cease all together.
Unlike extremely heavy periods, which can signal other health issues, light periods aren't as much of a concern. "The normal amount of bleeding is variable and ranges from light to heavy depending on the woman," Wong explains. As long as your periods are regularly occurring (every 23 to 35 days) there should be no concern. "If the amount of flow changes to become lighter it may represent a slight hormonal shift that is probably of no significance," Wong says.
If pregnancy is not a possibility, a late period can usually be explained by a hormonal change. Factors like changes in weight, emotional stress, eating disorders, high performance athletics or having polycystic ovarian disease can cause women to have a delayed or missed period. "If you miss one period, this means that you did not ovulate that month and there should be no concern if they return to a normal pattern," Wong notes. If you aren't already keeping track of your period, Wong recommends getting a calendar or an app to do so. That way, if your periods are late (occurring at intervals greater than 35 days) persistently over six months, you'll know and be able to show your doctor.
Just like late periods, early periods usually have a hormonal cause including stress, polycystic ovarian disease or thyroid hormone abnormality, says Wong. And abnormal spotting or bleeding can also be mistaken for an earlier period — if you are concerned, check with your doctor.
Brown coloured blood is common during the final days of your period. According to Wong, this is a result of the blood that has been settled in the uterus being expelled.
"Missing a solitary period is likely from a temporary hormonal imbalance, usually caused by stress," says Wong. But birth control methods like the pill, patch, ring and IUD can also cause very light or non-existent bleeding. If your periods become regular again after a missed period, then there should be no cause for alarm. However, if you regularly miss periods or have an irregular bleeding pattern, you could be experiencing hormonal issues caused by stress, abnormal thyroid levels, or polycystic disease. As a reminder, if your period is irregular you should consult your doctor.
Periods can last anywhere between two and seven days, but anything more than this is considered a prolonged period. "If you have periods lasting more than seven days on a regular basis, you should contact your doctor," says Wong. Prolonged periods are often associated with heavy periods, and can lead to iron deficiency anemia that will affect your overall health.
According to Wong, this is actually a normal side effect of starting a new birth control pill, especially on that is low dose and is referred to as "break through bleeding." If this is happening in the middle of the cycle, then it is likely hormonal and of no concern. But if it persists more than three months, Wong recommends seeing a doctor to adjust your medication and rule out other causes such as uterine/cervical polyps, and infection. It is also advised to get an updated pap smear and cervical cancer screening in this scenario.
Spotting can be a side effect of being on a birth control pill, or using a copper IUD, Wong explains. Spotting can be due to infections (STDs) and, or more concern, a sign of cervical cancer. Harmless causes of vaginal spotting between periods can also include polyps on the cervix or a condition called "cervical ectropion," which are sensitive cells that protrude on the exposed surface of the cervix and are prone to infection and abrasions, Wong explains. Your doctor should be able to detect both of these conditions during a pap smear.
"Clotting can be a sign that your periods are very heavy," says Wong. (Check out the heavy periods section for more information).
During your period, the lining of your uterus produces a natural chemical called prostaglandins, Wong says. Prostaglandins causes small contractions of the uterus to help shed the lining during your period which can cause cramping. It also affects the intestines and can increase movement of the bowel, which results in more frequent bowel movements and sometimes, diarrhea.