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Periods (menstruation)

About every month during a woman’s fertile years, her body goes through a natural process called the menstruation cycle. It is the body’s way of preparing the womb for a pregnancy. Having a period (or menstruating) happens when the womb is not needed for a pregnancy.

Periods (menstruation)

When will I have my first period?

Some girls get their first period at 8 or 9, and some don’t get it until they’re 15 or 16. The average age is 12 or 13. There is no ‘right’ time and your period will start when your body is ready. If you haven’t started by the time you’re 16, you should see your GP or school nurse. Typically, you’ll start your periods about two years after your breasts start growing and about a year after getting a white, vaginal discharge.

How long does a period last?

It’s different for everybody. Some girls menstruate for only 3 days, and some for as long as 7 or 8. The average is about 4–5 days.

How do I know when my period will arrive each month?

It should come every 26-32 days – write down the date it arrives each month in a diary/in your phone and this will help you to be prepared. You could wear panty liners/towels in the run up to your period if you are worried about when it might start. 

What if a girl never gets her period?

Girls who reach the age 16 without starting her period will need to see the doctor for investigations, diagnosis and treatment. 

When does a woman stop menstruating?

Women get periods until the menopause, which is when menstruation and the ability to have children stops. In most women, it usually happens in their late 40s or early 50s. But menopause can happen earlier or later than that. Some women may stop menstruation by the time they’re 35, and others not until the late 50s.

How much blood will I use?

It might seem a lot, but it’s only about 3-5 tablespoons. It’s not a sudden gush, you’ll just see a reddish-brown stain on your pants or on your sheets when you wake up in the morning.

Do periods hurt?

Some girls find their periods can be quite painful but taking some painkillers should help – if it is really bad you can see your doctor or pharmacist to advise and he/she will suggest other over the-counter remedies. Ways to manage pain include:

  • Massage the stomach
  • Taking some exercise
  • Warm drinks
  • Having a warm bath
  • Hugging a heat pad or hot water bottle (warm)
  • Relaxation
  • Stopping smoking (smoking is thought to increase your risk of period pains)

How do I stop the smell?

  • Change your towel/tampon regularly
  • Wash/Shower/Bathe more frequently during your period
  • Daily change of underwear

Pre-menstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name given to the physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms that can occur in the two weeks before a woman’s monthly period. It is also known as premenstrual tension (PMT). For more information please visit here.

Sanitary towels and tampons

Should I use tampons or sanitary pads?

Whether you wear pads or tampons is definitely a personal choice. Pads are easy to use and most girls prefer to use them at first. Although tampons take more time to get used to, they are ideal if you like to do activities such as swimming. Most women like to use a combination of different sanitary protection depending on what activity they are doing, what underwear they want to wear or what their period flow is like. 

How should I dispose of used towels and tampons?

At school or in other public places you should use the sanitary bins that are provided in the toilet cubicles. Wrap your used towel/tampon in some tissue before putting it in the bin as this makes it more pleasant for the next person. At home, speak to your parent/carer about the best place to dispose of your towels/tampons. Even towels that are advertised as “flushable” can cause problems in the drains so it is advisable to dispose of them in the household waste bins. Tampons can usually be flushed down the toilet. 

Can virgins use tampons?

Yes! Your virginity is not affected by your choice of period protection and certainly not by inserting tampons, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use tampons before you’re sexually active. 

What should I carry my towels/tampons in?

Put them in a little bag (you could buy or make a small purse, or use something like a small pencil case) that will stop the wrappers from coming off – this will also stop other people from seeing them in your school bag. 

How do I choose a sanitary towel?

Sanitary towels are designed to absorb your menstrual blood. Your choice of pad depends on how heavy your period is. Some designs have “wings” to help stick the pad securely to your pants. There are also sanitary towels especially designed for night time. 

What about during PE? Will other people notice?

Most of the girls in your class will be starting their periods in the next few months or years so there is no reason to be embarrassed. You can wear another pair of knickers over the top of a pair containing a towel to make you feel more secure, or try using a tampon on the days when you have PE.

Which tampon should I use?

Like sanitary towels the tampon you need depends on how much menstrual blood you lose. The heavier your flow the higher absorbency you will need. Selecting the right absorbency might take a bit of practice but, as a guide, a tampon should be able to absorb period blood for about 4 hours. If a tampon needs to be changed before 4 hours, a higher absorbency tampon should be used. Alternatively, when you remove a tampon if it feels a little uncomfortable and has lots of white fibres still showing, choose a lower absorbency. The absorbency you need changes through your period, flow is heaviest during the first three days and lighter afterwards. Always choose the lowest absorbency tampon suitable for your flow.

How often should I change my sanitary towel?

During the day you should change your sanitary towel about every 3-4 hours but there are specially designed night time pads available which do not need changing during the night. 

How often should I change my tampon?

Wash your hands before and after you change a tampon. You should be using the lowest absorbency tampon for your flow and changing the tampon about every 4 hours. 

How do I use a tampon? Will it hurt?

Not if you insert the tampon properly. If you are tense, the muscle at the bottom of your vagina constricts making it uncomfortable to insert a tampon. Relax, take slow deep breaths and guide the tampon upwards and backwards towards the small of your back. If you still feel discomfort, it may be that you haven’t inserted it far enough. To remove the tampon, relax and gently pull it out using the withdrawal string. Using tampons gets easier with practice but only practice during your period. 

Can a tampon get lost in my vagina?

A tampon cannot get lost in the vagina. If you accidentally left one in from your last period you might experience localised inflammation, causing a discoloured vaginal discharge and a bad smell. You may also be at risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. 

Can the withdrawal string break on a tampon?

This is really unlikely! But on the small chance that it does break, it’s usually easy to reach the tampon with your fingers. If you really can’t do it yourself, you should see your doctor as soon as possible and definitely on the same day. A tampon should never be left in your vagina for more than 8 hours. 

How long can I leave a tampon in?

Tampons should be changed regularly every 4-6 hours. They should not be left in your vagina for more than 8 hours as this could increase the risk of tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

What is TSS?

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is caused by the bacterium Stapylococcus aureus, which is commonly found in the nose and vagina of normal healthy people. Most strains of the bacteria do not cause TSS, but some do. Some women do not have the antibodies to protect themselves against these toxic strains and this can lead to TSS. 

How can I reduce the risk of TSS?

  • Use the lowest absorbency tampon to control your flow
  • Change your tampon every 4 to 6 hours
  • If you use a tampon overnight, insert a new tampon before going to bed and change it as soon as you wake up
  • Consider using a pad at night instead of a tampon
  • Read the leaflet contained in every box of tampons for up-to-date information

What are the symptoms of TSS?

Some of the symptoms of TSS are much the same as the flu. You can become very ill, very quickly.

Symptoms include:

  • High fever (>38degrees C)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • A rash that looks like sunburn
  • Muscle aches
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or near fainting when standing up.

If you have any of these symptoms, remove your tampon and consult a doctor immediately, telling him/her that you have been using a tampon and are concerned about TSS.