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Feeling overwhelmed or nervous about changes happening in your body is normal. But know that as you learn about your cycle, you can move forward as a menstruating person with confidence.
Let’s talk about your period, what to expect once you get it, and how to manage it once it’s here.
Your period is another name for a process called menstruation. Menstruation begins at different ages for each individual, but usually between 8 and 12 years of age.1
Once you get your first period, one of the first signs you may notice is blood in your underwear. This is normal and a sign that menstruation has started. While it may feel like a significant change at first, it’s helpful to understand what exactly your body is doing and why.
Your body is like a smart, self-run machine.
Each month, one of your ovaries (you have two) releases an egg. This is called ovulation and is the time of the month you are most likely to become pregnant with sexual activity.
Then, the egg travels through narrow tubes, called fallopian tubes, into your uterus. If the egg becomes fertilized through sexual activity, a baby can begin to grow. If it is not fertilized, the lining of your uterus sheds itself.
This “shedding” is the inner lining of your uterus, and comes out of the vagina. This is the blood you see during your period.
Physical and Emotional Changes
Your period is a sign of physical and emotional changes in your body. In addition to your period, you may also start to look and feel differently than before. Here’s how.
If you haven’t already noticed the following changes, you may feel some of them soon:3
- Growing, tender, or sore breasts
- Mood swings (fast changing emotions of sadness, anger, or sensitivity)
- A curvier body
- Pubic, underarm, and other body hair
- Shifting moods and emotions
- Menstrual cramps
Once you have your period, you can become pregnant if you have sex. If you haven’t already discussed sex and reproduction with a parent, caregiver, or trusted friend, now is a great time to ask questions about what sex is and how it can cause pregnancy.
Getting Your First Period
Now that you know what a period is and the changes to expect, let’s talk about how to prepare for your first period.
Find a Period Product That Works for You
Now is a great time to gather the supplies you will need to care for your body during your period.
Pads, panty liners, and period panties absorb blood from the outside. This means you can place a pad or panty liner in your underwear—or slip on a period panty—and they will catch the blood flow from your vagina. Many women and girls like these products because they come in many sizes and absorbency levels, carry less risk of infection, and don’t cause any internal discomfort.4
Other products include tampons and menstrual cups. They are inserted into the vagina and absorb blood flow internally. Many women and girls like these types of period products because they can’t be seen from the outside, you can’t feel them when inserted properly, and are comfortable during activities such as swimming or other forms of exercise.
It doesn’t matter which product you choose, as long as it’s the one that feels right for you. If you want to use tampons but have trouble inserting them, an assistive device for tampons can help.
Make a Plan in Case You Have Your Period at School or in Public
As much as we try, you can’t always predict periods.
Work with a parent, caregiver, or another trusted person to plan for if your period comes at school or another public event. If you do start your period at school or away from home, here are some options that can prepare you:
- Keep a pad or another product in your backpack.
- Keep a spare change of panties and other clothes in your school bag or purse in case of leaks.
- Keep a period product and extra clothes in your purse/overnight bag if you plan to stay at a friend’s house.
If you have limited mobility and need help changing your pad or tampon, work with a parent or trusted adult to plan who will help you. Know ahead of time who you can call if you need more assistance.
What to Do If You Don’t Have Supplies
What if you start your period and don’t have a pad or tampon? It happens to most women at some point.
Luckily there are ways you can get by until you get a pad, tampon, or another product. You can temporarily use folded toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, a clean washcloth, clean socks or other small, clean clothing items.5
Unless it’s a clean, unused tampon, do not insert anything into your vagina to absorb blood. Once you have a temporary fix, reach out to a teacher, friend, or another adult nearby who you trust to ask for a period product or help. Most women and girls are happy to help if they can.
Managing Your Period
Track your period
Most periods come every 28 days but vary with each person.6
A great way to learn about your period cycle is to track it. This is especially true if you have a disability or condition that limits your mobility because periods can trigger symptoms each month. If you notice your period causes flare-ups in pain or discomfort, you can work with your parents or caregivers to get help changing period products and caring for your body.
You can track your period by writing it down on a calendar. Or you can download an app that helps you track your periods through your smartphone. Be sure to ask a parent or caregiver for permission and help to download apps and to learn how to use them safely.
What to Do If Your Period Leaks or Stains Your Clothes
Period leaks happen, and blood stains are common, too.
With your parent’s permission or guidance, you can place your stained clothing items in ice-cold water for at least 10 minutes or up to overnight.7 For colored clothing, try rubbing the stain with a mixture of one part salt and two parts water. After removing the stain, wash the clothes in cold water in a washing machine and hang them to dry.
For tougher stains, turn to an adult for help. For example, you may need to use stronger chemicals that require adult supervision to wash out hard-to-remove stains.
If you need assistance, ask for help from a parent, caregiver, or trusted adult.
How to Use a Tampon
If you decide to use tampons, here’s how they work:
- First, remove the wrapper from the tampon.
- Holding the tampon from its middle, insert the tip of the tampon (the widest part) into your vagina, angling it towards your back. Stop when you reach the indentation or line of the tampon, usually about halfway up.
- Once the tampon is inserted, push the end of the tampon (where the string comes out) into the vagina, which plunges the absorbent cotton plug into your body.
- Remove the tampon applicator and throw it away.
You can also watch videos on how to insert tampons. If done correctly, it shouldn’t feel painful or uncomfortable and should stay in place. The string should hang from the vagina for easy removal a couple of hours later. Never wear your tampon for more than eight hours, which can cause a dangerous infection called toxic shock syndrome.
What If I Have Trouble Using a Tampon?
Learning to use tampons isn’t always easy. If you’re nervous about trying them—or have moved on to a different product after a few attempts—you’re not alone. It’s common for many women to avoid tampons due to discomfort or not knowing how to insert them correctly.8
We’ve heard from many parents and caregivers looking for similar help:
“I have a teen daughter that needs help learning to use a tampon.”
— Jo Ellen
“I’m the mom of a teen daughter who is struggling to use tampons. We’d love to try this!”
“My daughter is just now trying to use tampons. She is overweight, and it is a struggle to insert.”
Talk to a parent, caregiver, or trusted person about trying an assistive device for tampons. They can help your tampon reach the correct angle and depth every time you insert it. In addition, if you have limited mobility and experience pain or discomfort with inserting tampons, an assistive device can help you insert them on your own with less pain or discomfort.
Manage Your Period With Confidence
Periods and puberty bring changes. But with knowledge and preparation, you can live life with the confidence to care for your body during every new stage.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Preparing your child for menstruation. 16 February 2022. [cited 2022 July 04] Accessed from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/menstruation/art-20046004
- Anderson, Kelli. Menstruation with Your Daughter: What’s a Period? Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. [cited 15 July 2022] Accessed from: https://www.chla.org/blog/rn-remedies/discussing-menstruation-your-daughter-whats-period
- Tracee Cornforth. Verywell Health. Body Changes During the Menstrual Cycle. 07 March 2021. [Cited 06 July 2022.] Accessed from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-menstrual-cycle-3520919
- Santos-Longhurst, Adrienne. Tampons vs. Pads: The Ultimate Showdown. Healthline. 11 September 2019. [Cited 16 July 2022] Accessed from: https://www.healthline.com/health/tampons-vs-pads
- Tolly, Katlyn. HelloFlo. 5 Ways to Make an Emergency Pad. 20 October 2015. [Cited 08 July 2022.] Accessed from: https://helloflo.com/5-ways-to-make-an-emergency-pad/
- National Health Service. Periods and fertility in the menstrual cycle. 05 August 2019. [Cited 06 July 2022.] Accessed from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/periods/fertility-in-the-menstrual-cycle/
- Redd, Nancy. UbyKotex. How to Get Out Period Stains. [Cited 08 July 2022.] Accessed from: https://www.ubykotex.com/en-us/periods/period-basics/get-out-period-stains
- Borowski, Ann, "Are American women turning to reusable and greener menstrual products due to health and environmental pollution concerns?" (2011). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. [cited 2022 June 29] Accessed from: https://scholarworks.rit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1547&context=theses