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Dear Dish-It, When Will I Get My Period?

Jan 31, 2018

Dear Dish-It,

I’m 12 and I don’t have my period yet but I’ve noticed some discharge for about six months. How will I know when I get my first period and when will it happen? How will it feel and what do I need to do? Will it always come at the same time after the first one?

Waiting & Wondering

Dear W&W,

Your period (also called menstruation) is a major stage of puberty in girls; it’s one of the many physical signs that you’re turning into a woman. And, like a lot of other stages associated with puberty, menstruation can be confusing and mysterious. Here are some period basics that will help you with your first period, and every menstruation cycle after that.

Puberty & Periods

When girls start to go through puberty – usually between the ages of 8 and 13 – their bodies start changing in many ways. The hormones in your body stimulate new physical development, like growth and breast development.

About 6 months or so before you get your first period you may notice an increased amount of clear discharge. It’s common and nothing to worry about unless it has a strong smell or makes you feel itchy.

The start of your period is called menarche. It doesn’t happen until all the parts of your reproductive system have matured and are working together.

Your reproductive system is made up of ovaries, fallopian tubes and a uterus. The two ovaries sit on either side of the uterus (womb) in your pelvis and contain thousands of eggs (ova). The two fallopian tubes are long and thin and each stretches from one ovary to the uterus.

As you mature and enter into puberty, hormones are released that stimulate your ovaries. Then, about once a month, a tiny egg leaves one of the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. To prepare for the egg, your uterus starts building up its lining with extra blood and tissue. Your period happens when the blood, tissue and unfertilized egg leave the uterus and come out of your body. This cycle happens almost every month for a few decades, until you reach menopause and your ovaries no longer release any eggs.

How Often Will I Get My Period?

I wish I could give you a solid answer but, just as some girls begin puberty earlier or later than others, the same applies to periods. Some girls may start menstruating as early as 8, while others don’t start until 15.

The amount of time between a girl’s periods is called her menstrual cycle (the cycle is counted from the start of one period to the start of the next). Some girls will find their menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, while others might have a 24-day cycle, a 30-day cycle or longer.

Irregular periods are common in girls just starting to menstruate. It may take your body a while to sort out all the changes going on, so you may have a 28-day cycle for 2 months, then miss a month, for example. Usually, after a year or two, your cycle will become more regular.

As you get older and your [KWLINK 6814]periods settle down, you’ll probably be able to predict when your period will come. In the meantime, it's a good idea to keep track of your menstrual cycle with a calendar.

How Long? How Much?

The amount of time you have your period can also vary. Some girls have periods that last just 2 or 3 days. Others have periods that last 7 days or longer. The menstrual flow – how much blood there is – can vary widely from girl to girl, too.

You may feel worried that you’re losing too much blood. It can be a shock to see all that blood, but it’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever lose too much. And, though it may look like a lot to you, if you actually measured it, the blood you lose would only amount to about 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) for an entire period. Most teens will change pads 3 to 6 times a day, with more frequent changes when their period is heaviest, usually at the start of the period.

Cramps & PMS

You may notice physical or emotional changes around the time of your period. Menstrual cramps are pretty common; more than half of all women who menstruate say they have cramps during the first few days of their periods. Menstrual cramps can be dull and achy or sharp and intense, and they can sometimes be felt in the back as well as the abdomen. These cramps often become less uncomfortable and sometimes even disappear completely as you get older.

Over-the-counter pain medications (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen) can relieve cramps, as can taking a warm bath or applying a warm heating pad to the lower abdomen. Exercising regularly throughout the monthly cycle may help lessen cramps, too. If these things don't help, ask your doctor for advice.

You may feel sad or irritated during the week before your period or you may get angry more quickly, cry more than usual or crave certain foods. These emotional changes may be the result of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which is related to changes in your body’s hormones. You may also notice physical changes along with your period; you may feel bloated or puffy because of water retention, have swollen and sore breasts or get headaches. PMS usually goes away soon after your period starts, but it can come back month after month. Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising may help relieve some of the symptoms of PMS.

Pads & Tampons

Once you start menstruating, you'll need to use something to absorb the blood. Most girls use a pad or a tampon. There are so many products out there that it may take some experimenting before you find the one that works best for you. Some girls use only pads (particularly when they first start menstruating), some use only tampons and some switch around – tampons during the day and pads at night, for example.

Periods shouldn't get in the way of exercising, having fun and enjoying life. Girls who are very active, particularly those who enjoy swimming, often find that tampons are the best option during sports.

If you have questions about pads, tampons or coping with periods, ask a parent, health teacher, school nurse, or older sister.

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