Getting Your First Period (Menarche)

Getting your First Period (Menarche)

Getting your period for the first time (also known as menarche) can be an exciting or confusing moment in every female’s life. In most cultures, it epitomizes the rite of passage to becoming “a woman.” While it can symbolize a happy time, getting one’s period can also be scary for many women who do not fully understand what is happening to their body. After all, a female’s menstrual cycle signifies many changes—physically and hormonally, emotionally, and especially socially due to the growth of one’s body. Rest assured, however, that a woman’s menstrual cycle is nothing to be worried about: it is simply nature’s way of saying that her body is healthy and capable of reproduction. Knowing the facts about one’s period can help decrease any pre-period anxiety one may be experiencing.

When will I get my Period?

  Menarche, a girl’s first period, is a unique and highly personal experience for every woman. That being said, most women get their first period around the age of twelve. Menarche, however, can occur anywhere from the ages of eight to fifteen. Usually, but not always, a woman will receive her first period two years after breast development begins. It is important to remember, though, that all women develop at different rates and that growth patterns depend on various hormone-related factors. Pre-pubescent and pubescent development cannot and should not be rushed. A person’s body will grow when it is ready to, so remember that being an “early bloomer” or “late bloomer” in comparison to one’s friends if perfectly natural and normal. Doctors do advise, however, that if a female reaches age of fifteen and has not yet gotten her first period, she should seek the advice of a trained medical professional/OBGYN.

What is Going on Inside?

 During the menstrual cycle, many different things are going on inside a woman’s body. A part of the brain sends a series of messages which create a signal to send out hormones. Through the hormones, the brain and pituitary glands communicate with the ovaries. They send the message that an egg should be released for possible implantation. However, before we discuss this process, we should introduce some hormones that are essential to menstruation. The hormones estrogen and progesterone play a major part in monthly menstruation. About once every twenty-eight days, the female body prepares the uterus in anticipation of a fertilized egg. Estrogen, a hormone that begins increasing in the female body at the start of puberty, causes the inner uterine lining (the endometrium) to begin building up tissue in preparation for implantation. Progesterone, which also increases in the body during puberty, causes one of the two ovaries to release an unfertilized egg into the fallopian tubes (a process called ovulation). Once the egg (ovum) reaches the uterus, it may or may not be fertilized by sperm. If the ovum is fertilized (thus becoming a zygote), the egg implants itself inside the uterine wall, the menstrual cycle is interrupted, and pregnancy begins. However, if the egg is not fertilized due to the lack of sperm in the female reproductive track, the endometrial wall will begin to shed. This shedding of blood and built-up uterine tissue through the vaginal canal is what females experience as menstruation.

What Else Should I Expect?        

 Although a wonderful time in a young woman’s life, one’s period usually comes with some unpleasant new experiences. Most women experience abdominal cramping, bloating, fatigue, body aches, mood swings, breast tenderness, headaches, food cravings, etc. These symptoms are collectively referred to as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Although the name suggests that the symptoms occur before the onset of one’s period, they can also occur during menstruation and even after the period has ended. Similar to the age at which one experiences menarche, the symptoms one experiences will vary among women. Some women hardly encounter symptoms of PMS, while others cannot imagine a menstrual period without the side effects of PMS. PMS can be very distressing and painful for many women and should be treated with a degree of sensitivity and care.

 

What can I do to Combat PMS?

 Lucky for those who face PMS, there are some proven methods to fight these symptoms. The most popular pain-relievers are over-the-counter pills, including Midol, Pamprin, Tesco (UK), generic Ibuprofen, and others. Most of these remedies contain amphetamine and caffeine, which have been proven to help relieve various PMS symptoms like back aches, abdominal cramps, headaches, bloating, etc.

 If you are not able to get to the drugstore or do not have access to these medications, common household foods/drinks containing caffeine can help. Bananas and dark chocolate are both particularly good at helping cramping. Bananas are a good source of potassium which has been shown to fight cramps. It is thought that potassium deficiency might cause cramps. Dark chocolate, likewise, contains cocoa (70% and above is best) which actually acts as a muscle relaxant. A small amount of soda can likewise help satisfy the caffeine fix a woman’s body is craving. During menstruation, the body craves caffeine due to low blood sugar which may arise from fluctuating hormones. Caffeine can help bring blood sugar back to a normal level. However, it has been recently found that too much caffeine can also worsen cramps by triggering spikes in blood sugar and energy production. For this reason, it is very important to ensure that caffeine consumption is kept to a minimum. Likewise, a warm bath can help soothe menstrual cramps. Some women have also found that masturbation can actually decrease menstrual cramping as well. It is thought that the action of masturbation works the muscles and orgasm allows those same muscles to fully relax- relieving the cramping sensation.

 For those who prefer a quicker acting option, there are portable heat wraps available, such as Thermacare.These wraps can provide a woman with quick relief on the go. They are also very versatile and can be used for back or menstrual cramping. Usually these products last for up to eight hours and can be especially helpful for women in school or at work who desire discrete, but long-lasting, pain relief. Many women also recommend exercise to help reduce many of the symptoms of PMS. However, the opposite can also be true. Resting and lying down, particularly on your side (in fetal position) or back has proven particularly helpful for alleviating these symptoms.

 Some women also experience a more severe type of PMS, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). These women may experience more severe mood effects, especially those mimicking severe depression. Women who have PMDD often experience lack of energy, disinterest in daily life, anxiety, effects of seasonal affective disorder, and much more. Although the causes for PMDD are not yet known, it is thought that a fluctuation of hormones may trigger the onset of symptoms.

 If you or someone you know are having trouble finding a solution to PMS or PMDD, we recommend seeing a medical professional. A doctor might recommend a birth control pill. It is a little known fact that most women who are taking “the pill” are doing so to combat PMS related problems. The effects of different pills vary greatly however and should be discussed in detail. Regardless of whether you prefer a more natural or medical solution, a doctor will be able to help you assess what your specific body goes through during its cycle and how you can best combat undesirable symptoms.

 

What are my Feminine Product options?

 One of the most confusing parts of getting your period for the first time will probably be deciding which feminine product(s) is right for you. There are dozens of options and a large variety of brands available. How are you supposed to choose? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question or one magic product that will meet all of your menstrual needs. You may have to try out a few products until you find the one for you. However, we hope to help ease your decision by describing the most popular products in use today, along with some pros and cons of each.

Pads: Pads are absorbent rectangular products, usually made of cotton, which have a layer of adhesive on the bottom to help stick to one’s underwear. They are primarily used when a woman first receives her period, as they are considered by many people to be the simplest and easiest product to use. Pads come in a range of different absorbencies: lite, regular, and super, labels that correlate with the strength of the blood flow. Pads also come in scented and non-scented options. Although the scented pad may seem like a better choice, it is never good to put any type of perfume product down near your vaginal opening. This may lead to negative health effects, such as severe yeast infections, and should be avoided.

 

Pros of Pads

Cons of Pads

Pads are easy to use

Pads are not waterproof and should not be worn while swimming

Pads are consistent with some religion’s belief in zero “penetration” before marriage (the insertion of tampons into the vagina may be seen as vaginal penetration)

Pads can be uncomfortable and can easily slide out of place during heavy exercise

Pads, compared with tampons, are associated with decreased chances of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

Pads are oftentimes difficult to conceal because of the bulky/ loud wrapper, although some brands are now making an effort to create quieter wrappers

Pads are a great option for those with Vaginismus or for those whose hymen will not allow for tampon insertion

Pads may shift out of place, which may lead to menstrual stains on underwear and/or clothing

 

Tampons: Tampons are absorbent cotton cylinders that are inserted into the vaginal opening to absorb menstrual flow. Similar to pads, there are multiple absorbencies: lite, regular, super, and super plus. There are also different types of applicators: plastic or cardboard. Most women prefer cardboard since plastic can sometimes produce a slight pinching effect when inserted haphazardly. Cardboard applicators today are also usually biodegradable, which leads many women to prefer them. Similar to pads, there are also scented and unscented tampons. Although the scented tampon may seem like a better choice, it is never good to put any type of perfume product inside your vaginal canal. This may lead to negative health effects and should be avoided. If used incorrectly, tampon-use does carry a slight risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). It is important to remember that tampons should not be left inside the vagina indefinitely or for excessively long periods of time. A tampon should usually not be used for longer than 4-8 hours. However, tampons differ and it is important to always read the instructions on and/or inside the tampon box for more specific time ranges. It is helpful to use a pad or panty liner when sleeping—this will help your flow escape your body quicker, giving you a shorter period, as well as allowing your vagina a break from the use of tampons.

 

Pros of Tampons

Cons of Tampons

Highly effective during sports or physical activity

May cause TSS (if used incorrectly- primarily if left inside vaginal canal for extensive periods of time)

Are not waterproof but may be utilized in the water (though should be changed soon after exiting the water)

Suitable for those with Vaginismus, intact hymens, etc. however, may cause stretch or tear to the hymen.

More discrete and smaller than most products

May conflict with religious ideologies. Tampons conflict with some religion’s belief in zero “penetration” before marriage (the insertion of tampons into the vagina may be seen as vaginal penetration)

 

Menstrual Cups or “Diva” Cups: Menstrual cups are cylindrical “cups” made usually from silicone or rubber. They are meant to sit comfortably within the vaginal opening and collect menstrual shedding. Very popular in Japan, menstrual cups are just recently starting to become a favorite of many around the world. Noted for their reusability and surprising comfort, menstrual cups require the user to both insert and remove the cup and empty its contents.

 

Pros of Menstrual Cups

Cons of Menstrual Cups

Reusable (to an extent) Recommended use differs per cup but the average cup should probably be used only twice.

Many women may have difficulties or be uncomfortable with insertion. Cups are a new experience. Just like inserting a tampon for the first time, this will take some getting used to. However, similar to tampon insertion, some women never become comfortable and/or don’t prefer these products.

Comfortable and Cheap

May cause discomfort during removal

Healthy and Moderately Natural. Cups are tailored to women’s natural menstrual flow and thus can help to simulate natural menstruation.

Not suitable for women with smaller or tighter vaginas; may cause discomfort during insertion and/or removal.

 

Pill: Birth Control pills vary widely, but conventional birth control pills are the most common. These included a pack which contains either 21 days of active pills and seven days of inactive (during which menstruation occurs) or 24 days of active pills and four days of inactive (during which menstruation occurs). Birth control pills often offer women a better chance at predicting their cycle and, for most women, helps to reduce the duration and intensity of their menstrual flow. Most women who utilize birth control for PMS related reasons experience a mass decline in flow, cramps, and other irritating factors. If you or your partner decide to take birth control oral contraceptives, it is important to fully understand the type of birth control you are using and the effects that birth control will have on your body. Some types of birth control can lead to weight gain and/or can alter your hormone balance, which may affect you differently than others. For these reasons, it is important to always speak with your doctor about the birth control that is best for you.

 

Pros of Birth Control Pills

Cons of Birth Control Pills

Known for diminishing most PMS symptoms by using caffeine.

May cause other health related issues (ie: weight gain, hormone imbalance, etc.)

Usually help to reduce menstrual flow by altering hormonal balances and allowing the inner lining to disintegrate within the vagina.

May be expensive or difficult to get due to age restrictions. These restrictions only allow women over a certain age to purchase birth control without an adult. Restrictions will differ depending on region.

Helps regulate menstruation by creating a regular pattern. This helps to regulate a woman’s body.

Can cause irregular periods and/or PMS symptoms if wrongly taken or missed over the course of multiple days

 

Who Can I Talk to about my Period?

 Having a period is a wonderful thing and should be celebrated. It should not be a topic of embarrassment or shame. We encourage you to speak to anyone you trust regarding any questions or issues with your period. Whether it be your parents, your significant other, a doctor, school counselor, or another, talking with someone about your menstrual cycle is an important part of learning about your body. Just the fact that you are reading this article on our website right now shows that you are taking a great first step in learning more about your body and taking care of yourself.

Helpful Hints

 If you happen to get your period and don't have a tampon, pad, and/or cup nearby you can wrap the crotch part of your underwear with toilet paper as a temporary pad. You can also place a sock length-wise, like a pad, in an emergency to help absorb the flow and avoid staining your underwear and/or pants.

References

Medicine.net

“Women’s Health” WebMD.com      

 

Last Updated: 20  February 2016

 
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