Like many other firsts in your life, your very first period (known as menarche) is special. It may not feel special, what with the cramps and bloating, but it signals the onset of puberty and fertility and officially makes you a woman!
So let’s take a look at some period basics to get you ready.
When Will I Get My First Period?
Not all girls experience menarche at the same age, so it’s difficult to predict exactly when your period may start. You are likely to get it between 11 and 14 years of age, but you could experience it as early as 9 years or as late as 15 years.
Usually, menarche follows soon after the development of breasts, a defined waist and hip, and the appearance of pubic hair. The age you get your first period is also genetically determined. Chances are, you’ll get your first period around the same age your mom, aunts, or older sisters did.1
Why Am I Getting My Period?
Good question! Especially considering that most mammals don’t menstruate! Simply put, evolution is to blame.
The human placenta evolved to become a hemochorial placenta through which a human fetus (unlike other mammal fetuses) is able to directly access its mother’s bloodstream and nutrients.2 So you could say that the human female is biologically and evolutionarily hardwired to prepare for pregnancy.
With the onset of puberty, just before menarche (and then before every subsequent period), your brain prompts your body to start producing hormones to prepare your body for a possible pregnancy each month. Strange, isn’t it? Here’s how it works:
- These hormones cause the lining of your uterus to thicken with tiny blood vessels and then prompt one of your two ovaries to release an egg.
- The egg then moves along the Fallopian tube to your uterus – this process is called ovulation. If this egg is not fertilized by a sperm, pregnancy does not take place.
- In this case, the thick lining of the uterus disintegrates and flows out of your vagina in the form of a discharge containing blood, uterine tissue, mucus, and bacteria.
- When this process repeats every month, it’s known as your menstrual cycle or “period.”
Will I Bleed Every Month?
The average menstrual cycle is about 28 days, but this can vary widely. It is common for girls to get irregular periods when they first start menstruating. Your body has its own internal rhythm and it’ll take time for you to understand your cycle, the number of days it lasts, and the amount of flow.
It can take about 1–2 years for your period to settle into a consistent pattern. In the beginning, you may not get your period like clockwork every month on the same day and you may even skip some periods.
Will My First Period Hurt A Lot?
Pain with your first and subsequent periods is very common, but as with everything else period-related, it varies. Some girls experience little-to-no pain while others experience intense cramps.
If you experience discomfort or pain before or when you start your first period, take any of the following measures:
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can help alleviate period pain.
- Consult your doctor and discuss birth control pills that are known to reduce period pain.
- Hot water bottles and heating pads can help ease cramps.
- Some dietary supplements can also bring relief.
However, there are other more natural ways to deal with period pain. More on that in just a bit.
Will It Bleed A Lot And How Long Will It Last?
The first few periods are generally very light and very short. Many girls just get reddish brown spots for a few days and that’s it.
Eventually, periods usually last 3–7 days and the amount of flow varies on each day, usually starting light, then becoming heavy, and finally tapering off.3
What To Eat During Your Period
Dietary changes can help you feel more energetic and even prevent/relieve period cramps. Experts at the University of Maryland offer the following advice:4
- Eat foods high in calcium such as dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, and yogurt.
- Eat foods high in antioxidants such as blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and artichokes.
- Avoid pasta, white bread, deep-fried foods, and baked items high in sugar.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol.
Exercise 5 days a week for about 30 minutes and also consider adding supplements such as fish oil, evening primrose oil, and multivitamins to your diet. Studies also show that getting plenty of magnesium in your diet (by way of eggs, milk, oatmeal, green beans, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, or bananas) can help reduce period pain.5
It is crucial to maintain good menstrual hygiene to prevent infections and to simply feel good! Keep the following in mind:
- Take an extra shower or hot bath every day when you’re on your period. It’ll help you feel clean, plus the hot water will relieve some of the pain. Make sure to wash around your vagina (not inside it) gently with fragrance-free soap to get rid of excess blood.
- Always wash/wipe in a front-to-back motion (vagina to butt) and never in the opposite direction, to prevent infections, especially after bowel movement.
- If you want to use sanitary pads, change your pad before it becomes completely soaked. This varies from woman to woman, but most women change their pads every 4–8 hours.
- If you want to use tampons, you should also change your tampon every 4–8 hours. Leaving tampons on for longer can cause toxic shock syndrome, so be extra careful about changing your tampon often.
- Whatever feminine hygiene product you choose, discard it properly. This means wrapping it up in its original wrapper or toilet paper and throwing it in the trash. Never flush them down the toilet.
- Always wash your hands after changing sanitary products.
- Carry extra pads/tampons with you in case you experience heavy bleeding.
- If you start your period and you don’t have sanitary products with you, ask a friend or your school nurse for one. Don’t be shy! And if all else fails, fold up several squares of toilet paper and place it in your underwear until you can get to a drugstore.
Alternative Remedies For Period Pain
As per Ayurveda, minor tweaks in your diet and daily routine can make your periods easier to manage, relieve pain, and help you feel more energetic.
Ayurvedic Dietary Recommendations
Foods such as flax seeds, hemp seed oil, ghee, coconut oil, turmeric, and tea with ginger and cardamom are believed to help relieve period pain. Cumin, cilantro, saffron, and fennel are also considered to have anti-inflammatory properties that can lower period pain.
Supplements like ashoka (Saraca indica) can also help maintain a regular cycle and a healthy flow while also soothing uterine discomfort while you’re on your period.6
Yoga For Relieving Period Cramps
Yoga and meditation can also help you feel less stressed and more energetic when you’re on your period. Experts suggest a 45-minute routine consisting of Supta Baddha Konasana, Supta Padangusthasana, Baddha Konasana, Janu Sirsasana, Paschimottanasana, and Viparita Karani to help ease cramps and feel less fatigued.7
|↑1||Female Puberty, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|↑2||How And Why Did Women Evolve Periods? Forbes|
|↑3||Your First Period (Especially for Teens), The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists|
|↑4||Menstrual pain, The University of Maryland Medical Center|
|↑5||Premenstrual syndrome, The University of Maryland Medical Center|
|↑6||Verma, Angad, Goutam Kr Jana, Raja Chakraborty, Saikat Sen, Sandeep Sachan, and Ashutosh Mishra. “Analgesic activity of various leaf extracts of Saraca indica Linn.” Der Pharmacia Lettre 2, no. 3 (2010): 35.|
|↑7||A Gentler Practice for Your Period, Yoga Journal|