Parents (commonly mothers) or older siblings tell daughters about menstruation only after they’ve attained it. Even if they impart knowledge of this essential occurrence beforehand, there is very little explanation of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of it. This article is for those at the brink of puberty and for the parents of those adolescents.
Menarche refers to the onset of menstruation (periods) in (biological) girls. The usual ages for menarche vary from as early as 8-9 years to nearly 15 years, with the mean menarcheal age being 12. Imagine a young girl suddenly discovering that she is bleeding from her vagina. Unless specifically educated regarding this, most will not even realise that it is coming from the vagina. One day a girl wakes up in a pool of blood and it seems to come from where she pees. And girls are just expected to ‘grow up’ about this all of a sudden.
The first thing any menarcheal adolescent needs at this point is reassurance. It’s not over-dramatic of them to assume they’re dying. Tell them that they’re not. Neither are they ill. It helps to tell them some of their hormones have just decided to start their regular functioning and it’s usually a good thing.
Secondly, tell them that too much pain is not normal. Do not encourage them to “live with it” (because a woman’s life is doomed to be painful and this is just the beginning – no, just no). Take them to the gynaecologist, if required. If they have a specific condition that requires a change in diet help them figure out which foods are healthy and which are not. It’s important for girls to know that excessive bleeding is not normal and that it can potentially lead to anaemia. Timely medical attention is essential to address concerns.
Third, let them explore their choice of menstrual products. Whether they choose to use sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups, or cloth pads – let it be their pick. In the case of sanitary napkins, educate them about changing it often enough. Every 4-6 hours is usually considered safe because menstrual blood, once outside the body is prone to bacterial growth (it’s full of nutrients – blood and tissue). In the case of tampons, it’s important to educate them on proper use. Toxic shock syndrome can be caused by a tampon that is left in for too long. But be careful not to scare them, they are already anxious about this new physical experience. Also remember, the product you have used all your life may not be the most comfortable for someone else.
Resting can be difficult especially when a girl is still getting used to bleeding for 3-5 days straight. Also, girls who are having their period for the first time are perpetually scared that they’ll stain something, adding to the discomfort.
Research has shown that exercise may actually help with cramps. Of course, it depends on the individual. More importantly, this exercise should be undertaken throughout the month, not only during menses.
Fifth, remind your kid that their period will be accompanied by other changes, all of which are normal. They are normal even if they get their period earlier than their classmates. They are normal even if they don’t get their period at the same rate as their classmates. All of it just indicates that sex hormones are starting to act. Again, usually, that’s a good thing. For those whose sex does not align with their gender, this stage might be especially difficult. Help them research their options so that by the time they are adults they can figure out what keeps them at peace.
Finally, tell them they are not dirty. Menstrual blood is not dirty. It does not come from the urethra, as is the common misconception. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. Tell them that the onset of their maturity is not shameful. Tell them that it is okay to still be a child, that you will still be there to answer questions and give out help when they seek it.
Make sure they can come to you for information and reassurance. That will require openness on your part and adequate knowledge.
This article was first published here.