Understanding how to talk to your daughters about menstrual health.
written by: Dr. Filza Swalah, ND
We’ve all heard the story about the birds and the bees. But have you heard of the period talk? Puberty and periods can be confusing, and although it might be an uncomfortable conversation to have with your little girls, it’s important for them to know about their bodies and what it means to enter the next stage of their life… menstruation! This blog will help you navigate this conversation and strengthen the strong-as-steel bond between mom and daughter!
Starting the conversation:
There isn’t an exact age when this conversation can begin. Puberty, for females, typically begins at 8, and this is when changes like acne, body hair, growing breasts, rounder hips, and pubic hair begin to occur.1 An inquisitive child might start sharing about how their body is changing, or you might notice it. This is the perfect opportunity to explain what these changes mean and the other changes that are to come.
Here are a few facts that you can share to help clear up some confusion:
- Puberty is a natural part of “growing up”. It’s a process, and changes occur over time. The brain is telling the rest of the body that it’s time to go from girl to woman.
- Puberty can begin at any time, perhaps earlier than or later than others.
- It’s led by hormonal changes. Hormones are chemical messengers that tell other parts of your body what to do. As you grow older, your hormones change and signal your body to develop to become an adult.
- During puberty, some of the changes that’ll occur are:
- Body odour
- Hair in private parts and underarms
- Breasts growing
- Growth spurts
One effective way to explain puberty is by sharing your personal experience with it. What changes did you experience first? How did you feel emotionally? How did you cope? Telling your puberty story can decrease stigma and make you more relatable.
Discussions about menstruation and menstrual hygiene can begin soon after you notice your child going through puberty. Again, there is no definitive age, as each child has a different timeline.
Here are the most common questions associated with periods and how you can answer them:
What is a period?
Each month the ovary, which is part of the female reproductive organ, releases estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for building the lining of the uterus. The ovary also is responsible for releasing an egg. When that egg doesn’t meet its other half, the sperm, a cascade of reactions occur which causes the uterus lining to shed, resulting in a period. A period is basically the body’s way of informing you that you aren’t pregnant.
What happens during a period?
During a period, menstrual blood will come out of the vagina. For some, the first two-three days are the heaviest, requiring frequent changes of pads or tampons. After the first few days, the flow will decrease and eventually stop after 5-7 days. Pain and cramping may be experienced during the first two days of flow, and again, this is individualized. Some periods might be different from others. If pain is an issue, try a heating pad or hot water bottle or take a painkiller.
Are periods going to be regular?
When you begin having a period, it might not come every month for a few months. This is completely normal. It takes about 2-3 years for a period to come monthly.
What is PMS and will I have it?
PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome and is a series of symptoms that occur a few days before the period starts. PMS includes acne, breast tenderness, bloating, and emotional changes like moodiness or sadness. Not everyone experiences it and some only experience it for a few periods, not all.
Can I get pregnant?
Not only can pregnancy occur when periods begin, but it can even happen before too. Hormones responsible for ovulation can be active, causing ovulation, even before someone experiences their first ever period.
Preparing for a period:
Make it a girl' shopping trip by going out to your local drugstore and preparing a period kit. Use this an opportunity to educate your child on the difference between brands, wing vs no wing pads, length and thickness and panty liners. Tampons are another option, but this might be intimidating in the initial years of getting a period. Period underwear is also another great option that could be discussed and considered as a part of the period kit.
When to speak to a healthcare professional:2
Although it’s common to have missed periods, menstrual cramps, and changes in flow, there are some signs that require a doctor’s attention. Here’s when to speak to a family doctor for support:
- If your child hasn’t had menses by 15 years of age. This could be a sign of primary amenorrhea and should be investigated to determine and treat the root cause.
- If it’s been more than 2 years since the first period and periods are not coming monthly
- If severe cramping, unrelieved by over-the-counter painkillers, is a monthly symptom
- If heavy bleeding, needing a menstrual pad or tampon to be changed every 2 hours, occurs
- Experiencing severe PMS that impacts activities ‘
- If puberty and menses begin before the age of 8. This is called precocious puberty and could have multiple causes.
How to manage your own emotions:
Often when your daughter is going through the roller coaster of hormonal fluctuations, as a mother, you are also likely going through perimenopause. This may bring about some interesting dynamics between mom and daughter as her hormones are going wild, and so are yours. Be ready, give yourself grace, fuel well and rest well. Sometimes hormone fluctuations can bring about strong emotions. It's normal, but others in the house may need a heads-up.
A friendly reminder:
Remind your daughter that there are millions of women all around the world that have gone through these changes and experiencing a period monthly. And although it might seem daunting in the beginning, you’ll embrace the changes and find yourself falling in love with this new phase of life!
If you are still feeling uncomfortable having this conversation with your child, lean on a registered healthcare professional like doctor, nurse, and naturopathic doctor to help you fill the gap.
- (n.d.). Stages of puberty explained in pictures. WebMD. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/children/ss/slideshow-puberty-stages
- Miller, R. R. (Ed.). (2018, October). Talking to your child about periods (for parents) - nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/talk-about-menstruation.html