Written by my Fall 2020 Apprenticeship Participant, Tara Ghosh. Interested in joining my next Apprenticeship? Sign up for the waitlist here.
Do you remember when you got your first period?
We all do.
Where we were and how we felt when we first saw the blood. Perhaps we felt surprise and excitement, or perhaps it was more like fear and embarrassment. Most people with periods wish they had been better prepared and knew more ahead of their period’s first arrival.
So we can support the tweens in our life to have a great menstrual experience right from the start, it’s important that we know what to expect and have ideas to make this transition smooth for them.
When should the tweens in our life have their first period?
Our first period is called menarche (pronounced “men-arch”) and while the average age is around 12-13, it can come anytime from 8-16 years old.
We cannot predict exactly when menarche will happen but our bodies give us clues which we can look out for:
- Breasts develop around 1-3yrs before menarche. The breast buds are often one of the first signs of puberty for tweens and they can start to grow anytime from the age of 8. The breast buds may feel tingling, aching or itching which is totally normal as the breast grows.
- Hair growth. This often starts with hair on the arms and legs getting thicker and darker. Then she may notice hair in her pubic area and underarms. This hair is fine at first and then becomes thicker and coarser.
- Growth spurt. In the year before menarche many tweens grow 4 inches or 10 centimeters. During puberty their body will begin to build up fat, particularly in the breasts and around the hips and thighs, which is totally healthy.
- Hair and skin become oilier, with small breakouts on her face, as well as more sweating.
- Cervical fluid. Your tween may notice white or yellow stains in her underwear. This starts 6 months to 2 years before menarche. In the few weeks leading up to the first period this fluid can become thicker and more like egg white.
Remember though, that all menstruators are different, so these are just general guidelines.
After menarche, what should periods be like during the early teen years?
Every menstrual cycle our brain and ovaries are in a conversation, and it’s this dialogue that determines if we ovulate. As adults, this conversation is well established. So every cycle our body knows what to do – recruit follicles (which produce estrogen) and ovulate (which means we produce progesterone). Around 2 weeks after we ovulate our period arrives. Voilà! Then the whole cycle repeats.
For the first few years after your first period, and up to the first 5-7yrs, your body is still establishing that conversation between the brain and the ovaries and the chit chat isn’t always smooth and regular. This causes irregular cycles, heavy periods and PMS symptoms like mood swings and sore boobs.
While it takes some years for our period to regulate, we need to remember that excessively heavy periods, excruciating pain, periods missing for many months, is not normal. We need to consider if there’s anything in the teen’s diet or lifestyle that we can improve (FYI a bad diet and/or high stress levels really screw with teenage periods and moods!).
But if, after a few cycles of trying diet and lifestyle tweaks, there is no real improvement, you need to see a doctor. But please do not accept the doctor offering the hormonal birth control pill to “regulate” her period, as that is just a plaster to cover up whatever underlying health issues there are. You can see this article on the reasons why the pill is to be avoided.
How can we best prepare the tweens in our life to have a happy menstrual cycle?
The most important thing is to talk about periods to kids, both boys and girls, ideally way before the tween or teenage years to just normalise what a period is. How it’s completely normal and expected to feel different during your cycle – more chatty and extroverted around when you ovulate, more introspective and quieter nearer to when your period comes.
I am a huge advocate for tracking your cycle, but I think it is more important than ever for tweens to have this information and skillset, as they go through their teenage years. We know the sad statistics of the higher rates of teenage anxiety, depression and suicides and I feel if we can give girls this tool to understand themselves better, we can help empower them and protect them.
Here are some other practical ways we can help our tweens:
- Prepare a period kit with period products, fresh underwear and some wipes so your tween is ready if her period arrives when she’s not at home
- Celebrate when her period arrives! Ask your tween how she would like to mark this important milestone in her life – perhaps a pamper day just the two of you, a party with aunties and special women in her life, or a piece of jewelry.
- Buy her a special journal so she can write everyday how her moods and energy change through her cycle. This will allow her to understand her inner rhythm and recognize patterns of how her mood and energy change through her cycle.
- Give her language to express how they are feeling so the rest of the household can know where they are at. Perhaps create a dial to put on the fridge where she can indicate how she feels that day, for example “full of energy”, “would prefer time alone”, “talk to me at your peril” etc.
- Help support ovulation so they do have the right levels of estrogen and progesterone – you do this by encouraging them to prioritize sleep, give them skills to manage stress and have a good diet.
- Avoid xenoestrogens – these fake estrogens are pervasive and ruining our hormonal health. We have a great opportunity when our tweens start using deodorants and make up to educate them about products which are free of the nasties like parabens and aluminium. Also, with their period products, reusables are best and if they are not suitable or available, then choosing chemical free disposables is key.
I hope this has been helpful for you and the tweens and teens in your life. If you have any questions, get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
Tara Ghosh is an Arvigo® Therapist and wellness expert passionate about empowering people with periods to feel strong whatever season of their life they are in. Tara works with people 1:1 all over the world, as well as running Period Positive workshops for tweens and a 5-week course Embrace Your Cyclical Power for those in their 30s and 40s. You can connect with Tara here, or on her Instagram @_taraghosh_.