All About Periods

Introduction | Periods explained | How your body works | Sanitary protection | Toxic Shock Syndrome | Handling your periods | Keeping track | PMS | What you really want to know! | Hygiene | Getting help | Myths and fun facts

Introduction

Periods are a natural part of growing up. Every girl on the planet will get her periods at some point and every woman all through history has had her periods. Periods are Mother Nature's way of making sure that humans continue to exist, so each and every girl – including you – is an important part of the survival of the human race! How about that?

But we don't want to put you under any pressure here! We just want you to know that, when it comes to periods, whatever you are going through is perfectly normal – and it's all part of puberty and getting ready for the next stage of your life. As you move through your teen years, you will be growing more and maturing on your way to becoming a young woman.

Just a quick word about puberty. We have a whole other section on puberty and you'll find there lots of information about the other changes you'll go through.

Periods explained

First of all, let's give you a simple description – a period is a small amount of blood that leaks out of an opening between your legs. This opening is called your vagina. This is not like bleeding when you cut yourself. The bleeding you get with your periods has a special pattern all of its own and it is meant to happen. When you cut yourself, that is an accident. Periods are not accidents!

Girls and women will often talk about their "period" or their "periods". It doesn't really matter which you call it. You'll soon work out which word to say when.

The proper name for periods is "menstruation" [men-stroo-ay-shun] or "menstrual [men-stroo-al] periods" but few people use these words much now – you're more likely to see these words in books or magazines.

Perhaps one of the most annoying things about getting your periods is that you can't predict when your first period will arrive. Did you know that out of every eight girls, one of them will start their periods at primary school? So, the most important things to understand first of all are (1) what to expect and (2) how to be prepared.

How often will I get my periods?

When your periods first start, they may be "irregular", which means there's no pattern to them. It can take up to two years for your periods to become regular and have a pattern. Your body will decide what pattern it wants to use for your periods, and this is called your "menstrual cycle" or "monthly cycle".

A menstrual cycle is the number of days from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. It is usually 28 days but can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days. Please understand that your menstrual cycle may be completely different to other girls' so you musn't worry if they have their periods more often or less often than you. Every girl is different! Remember, in the beginning, you may not have a regular cycle at all. You just have to trust that your body knows what it's doing, even if you don't understand it!

How long will my periods last?

This will depend on your body. A girl's periods can be any length of time from 2 days to 7 days long; the average is 5 days. In the early stages of your periods though, your periods may be a bit crazy! They may change a lot. Maybe one will be two days long, then the next might be six days, and one after that might be four. It will take a while for your body to settle into its own pattern, or menstrual cycle.

Sometimes you will get something called "spotting". This is just a few drops, or spots, of blood that often comes between periods, especially in the first couple of years. This is all perfectly natural.

Here are some examples to show just how different each girl's experience can be.

Rosie

Rosie was 11 when she first noticed some spotting in her knickers. She continued to get a lot of spotting over the next four months. Then her periods started properly. The first full-on period was 6 days long. She had another 2 days just five weeks later. Rosie then didn't have another period for nine months and that one lasted 1 day. When her pattern settled down a year later, she was having a 7-day period every 35 days.

Fahimaa

Fahimaa's first period arrived when she was 9. It lasted 3 days, then she had nothing for three months till she got a bit of spotting for a few days. Her next period was 4 days long. Two weeks later she had her period for 5 days. Over the following 16 months, she had the odd day here and there, but then she noticed her pattern was be coming regular – a 5-day period every 28 days.

Kim

She had regular periods from the very start: 4 days every 21 days. Kim was 14 when they started and rarely had any spotting between periods.

So now you can understand that your periods might be a bit unpredictable at first, and whatever you experience will be different to other girls.

Why is it called the "menstrual cycle"?

A cycle is something that goes round once, then goes round again, and then again, and again and again and again. It keeps repeating the same pattern. It's the same for the cycle of the seasons: winter / spring / summer / autumn / winter / spring / summer / autumn / etc.

In the case of your menstrual cycle, your body keeps repeating the pattern of bleeding every month (once it has settled down, of course). To understand this better, take a look at how your body works below.

Why do I need to know about the "menstrual cycle"?

Once you know what your menstrual cycle is, you will know when to expect your periods. You can then be better prepared and make sure you have with you the products you need, when you need them.

How much blood will I lose?

It may seem hard to believe but not very much at all – usually about a tablespoon a day. Over a week, you'll lose about an eggcupful. It looks much more than it really is !

Are there any signs that my periods might start soon?

Actually, yes! Periods often start about two years after breast buds begin to develop. Also, before you start bleeding, you will get some watery, sticky fluid coming out of your vagina for a number of months, possibly a year.

People refer to this as "vaginal discharge" or "discharge". This is the last stage of your body getting really ready. This discharge may be slightly yellow, or clear, or white. You'll see it in your knickers easily enough when it has dried.

If you start getting this discharge, then it's a good time to get little kit of sanitary products together to keep with you all the time. The PoGo Pack is great for this as it already has all the products you'll need. It would be a good idea to include a spare pair of knickers too. This is the time you need to start taking your kit of products with you everywhere. Remember, your first period could arrive at any time, and you will want to be prepared.

What do periods feel like?

At first, you might feel nothing at all, which is why, when you get your very first period, it can come as quite a surprise. You may simply feel some wetness between your legs, and then you'll discover some blood in your knickers.

When the blood is coming out, it may feel strange, almost as if you want to wee. It's a different sensation though, because wee is much thinner and comes out much faster - and you can stop yourself weeing. The blood from your periods is thicker than wee, and will trickle out slowly, and you can't stop it.

If you have heavy periods, the blood will flow out more quickly and may feel like it's rushing out like a waterfall. Again, it feels worse that what it actually is.

What if my periods haven't started yet?

Nature made every one of us different so, although all girls will start their periods at some point, every girl is will have a slightly different experience. The average age for a girls' first period is around 12. Most girls will start between the ages of 10-14, but girls can start anywhere from age 8 up to age 18. Amazing, isn't it? So, whatever is – or isn't – happening to you, that's absolutely okay!

I'm getting spots of blood. What is this?

It's quite normal to get some occasional spots of blood. This is called "spotting" and some women refer to it as a "show" ie you're showing signs! These drops may be red or reddy-brown in colour. They appear in between periods, in the middle of the menstrual cycle at around the time of ovulation.

I've started! How do I tell mum or dad?!!

Congratulations! This is an important moment, and the next stage in growing up.

Lots of girls feel awkward about telling their parent or carer. If that's you too, then here are some ideas on how:

  • Send a text message.
  • Send an email - mark it urgent.
  • Write a note or postcard, put in an envelope with "Mum" (or whoever) written on the outside. You could add the word "private" too if that helps. Leave it somewhere safe where you're sure they'll find it.
  • Just leave your stained knickers in the wash - though that's not a guarantee they'll get noticed.
  • Although it may not seem nice, you could leave your stained knickers on your bedroom floor where you know your mum will find them. She'll realise immediately!!
  • Leave a message on their mobile phone - but make sure you know they won't answer it!
  • Tell someone else, like a big sister, auntie, etc, and ask them to pass on the good news for you!

Here are some ideas on what to say:

  • "Something important happened to me today. I got my period."
  • "My periods have started. Please can you get me some pads?"
  • "I got some blood in my pants today. Can you talk to me about it please?"
  • "I think my periods might have started. What do I do?"

If you have any other ideas you'd like to share with other girls, please send them to us via the Comments page. We'd really appreciate it!

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How your body works

Why do I have to have periods?

Having periods is one of the ways your body tells you that you're healthy. You may have very mixed-up feelings at first (worried, scared, excited even!), but your body is going through a big growing–up stage and it's actually something to be proud of. Once you've had a few periods, they'll become part of life like everything else, so you can get on and do anything and everything you normally do.

Do you remember we mentioned at the beginning about keeping the human race going? Well, let's talk about that some more.

Women's bodies were designed to have babies. Baby girls grow up to be women who have more babies. Some of them may have baby girls who will also grow up to have their own babies - maybe girls - and so on. So you see, it's another pattern, or another cycle – of life!

So that a woman can have a baby, her body needs to be ready. Puberty is the time that her body gets ready and periods are the big change that make having a baby possible. This is what is happening to you. Your body is getting itself ready to have babies ... did we hear you scream?!

Important message!

Once a girl starts her periods, she can actually have a baby. It's really important to understand this because part of growing up is also about knowing how your body works, how babies are made, and being sensible.

This is an important conversation that you need to have with a parent or other grown up who looks after you. Your school will also have lessons about how babies are made, so pay attention!

No one is expecting you to have a baby any time soon! In fact, most grown-ups want you to wait until you are much, much older, at least until you are in your 20s or 30s when you are more mature. Your body still has some more work to do in the next few years so that when the time is right, you will be properly ready and emotionally mature enough to handle all the responsibilities of having a baby. Believe us, it's hard work!

How does my body make periods happen?

Ovaries inside the body

Your body is a walking miracle! It does some things automatically, like breathing or growing hair, and it does other things that you get to decide on, like running or clapping hands. Having periods is something that your body does automatically. It's been designed to have them ever since you were born but your body waits for the right time. When is that exactly? Sorry, we can't tell you that because it's something that only your brain knows and we're not mind readers! Your body will give you some clues though, and we talk about that above, see Are there any signs that my periods might start soon? above.

This picture shows the ovaries, which are the special part of a girl's body that makes periods happen. [We'll be adding information soon that will describe how the ovaries work, so please come back and check again.]

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Sanitary protection

Sanitary protection explained

Sanitary protection is basically the products that women and girls use when they have their periods. The products are designed to soak up all the blood from your period and protect your clothes from getting soaked and badly stained.

The two main types of sanitary protection are:

  • pantyliners and sanitary pads/towels
  • tampons.

There are also other products, such as menstrual cups and sponges.

What sanitary protection should I use?

When your periods first start, you should use sanitary pads/towels and pantyliners. The terms "sanitary pads" and "sanitary towels" are both used to mean the same thing.
One type of sanitary protection
Every packet of sanitary pads explains how much "absorbency" they have. This means, how much blood they will soak up. Sorry to tell you, but the choice of sanitary pads in the shops can be confusing – there are dozens and dozens of different pads available to buy!

You'll find the following symbols on packets of sanitary products, which can help you to understand which ones will be best for you at different times. These "drops" explain how absorbent the products are.

sanitary_symbols450.jpg

Pantyliners usually have the "one drop" symbol. These are good for spotting, or vaginal discharge, which girls start to get in the final stages before their periods start (that sticky clear/white/yellow fluid) and between periods.

The more bleeding you have, the more absorbency you need from your sanitary pad. You may only need the "two drop" pads at the beginning of your period, then the "three or four drops" as your flow gets a little heavier.

If you have really heavy bleeding, you will need the pads with "five drops" and these are also perfect for night-time because they are longer and thicker.

The other product worth knowing about is the menstrual cup. This is a soft, flexible cup shaped like a bell that is inserted into the vagina. It collects all the blood, which you then pour into the toilet, rinse the cup and reuse it. Even though it might sound disgusting at first (!) lots of women find these a fantastic way to handle their periods. Menstrual cups are also brilliant if you swim a lot. Girls do need to be careful with these though – you need to get the small size.

Lots of parents might not like their daughters using a menstrual cup, for the same reason they don't like the idea of tampons for young girls, so do talk to them about it. It might be best to wait until you're ready to move on to tampons, and consider one of these instead.

The great thing about menstrual cups is that they are a safe, natural alternative to pads and tampons, and because they're reusable, you save a lot of money on sanitary towels and tampons over your lifetime, and they are therefore better for the environment!

A word about "wings"

A sanitary pad with wings

Lots of sanitary pads have "wings".
There are flaps on either side of the pad and the flaps should be wrapped around the edge of your knickers. They're designed to protect your knickers from getting stained with any blood that might leak out.

How do I use sanitary products?

Pantyliners and pads are designed to be worn next to your body by putting them inside your knickers. They will soak up the blood as soon as it leaves your body.

Tampons are designed to be worn inside the body, in the vagina. They soak up the blood before it leaves your body.

We'll be adding some diagrams here soon so please come back again.

Can I use tampons?

iStock_8541252XSmall_tamponhand_250.jpg

Until your menstrual cycle has settled down into a really reliable pattern, it is not wise to use tampons. This is because you need to know what your flow is - the amount you bleed - and use a tampon that has the correct absorbency. Your flow will change during your period, so it may take many months for you to know the pattern of your flow.

Tampons come in different sizes and using the right size tampon is really important. Although it's really rare, using the wrong size tampon for your flow can sometimes cause health problems, such as Toxic Shock Syndrome (see heading below).

However, some girls like to use tampons from the start, particularly if they play a lot of sport. Please talk to a parent about this because using tampons can be a big step and you will probably need some help.

How do I know what size tampon to use?

Your flow will be different at different stages of your periods. It's not until your cycle is in a regular pattern that you will understand how your periods are for you.

Using the correct absorbency of tampon is very, very important. When trying tampons for the first time, always start with the lowest absorbency tampon as a test.

If you find you are leaking because the tampon has fully absorbed the blood, then you need to use a tampon with a little more absorbency.

If, when you change your tampon after four hours, the tampon is still showing white in parts (ie, it hasn't absorbed all the blood), then you are using a tampon that has too high an absorbency and you must change to a less absorbent one.

Getting this right will take a while, so be patient. You can always wear a pantyliner or pad for a bit of added protection in the early stages.

How often should I change my pad or tampon?

All sanitary products should be changed every 3-4 hours during the day time. A good guide is: morning / lunchtime / after school / after dinner / bedtime. This is because all sanitary products have a point at which they stop absorbing the blood, so you'll want to change your pad or tampon before it starts to overflow.

There will be some days when your bleeding is lighter (usually beginning and end of your period) and heavier days in the middle. Once you're into the monthly routine of periods, you will recognise when you need to change your pad or tampon, but for health reasons, change them at least every four hours.

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Toxic Shock Syndrome

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but extremely serious illness. Although it can affect men and women at any age, it is most common in women under 25 who use tampons. It is thought that this is because young people have not developed sufficient immunity to the toxins produced by the bacteria.

TSS can also occur as a result of an injury, after suffering burns , an infection, and having surgery. Women are also at risk after after childbirth, or when using an internal contraceptive barrier, such as a diaphragm.

How serious is it?

Statistics are hard to pin down, but we have read that out of the UK population of 60 million people, there are about 40 cases of TSS reported each year, half of which are associated with women using tampons – so that's 20 girls out of 60,000 million people. Sadly, out of those 40 people who get TSS 2 or 3 people will die. [Source: UK Public Health Laboratory Service 1985-1995]

Do tampons cause TSS?

No, tampons do not cause TSS. It is caused by the bacteria "Staphylococcus Aureus", which naturally lives on and in the body, including in the vagina. It produces a toxin (poison) which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The toxin quickly overpowers the body's immune system, which leads to severe illness.

There still seems to be uncertainty as to exactly what causes the toxins to be produced, but theories we have read suggest that tampons:

  1. increase the amount of surface within the vagina on which the bacteria can breed, and
  2. introduce oxygen into the vagina which then reacts with the bacteria.

Man-made fibres in tampons have also had bad publicity. For this reason, we would always recommend organic tampons.

What are the symptoms of TSS?

Here are the symptoms, which are quite similar to severe flu, and which occur after your period starts:

  • a sudden high fever (temperature)
  • vomiting
  • a sunburn-like rash on chest, stomach or thighs, which may peel
  • watery diarrhoea
  • fainting or feeling faint
  • muscle aches
  • dizziness
  • confusion

Not all symptoms may appear.

How do you prevent TSS?

Continuous use of tampons throughout the menstrual cycle is considered to be a high risk factor, and young girls are believed to be particularly at risk, so we strongly encourage you to avoid using tampons for as long as possible. It would be even better to never use tampons. We don't want to scare you, though, because millions of girls use tampons quite safely and wearing pads isn't always practical and convenient for girls.

TSS is easily prevented – and here's how:

  • Use organic tampons.
  • Always wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon.
  • When choosing which tampon, always use the one with the lowest absorbency suitable for your period flow.
  • Use different size tampons for different stages of your period, depending on how light or heavy your flow is, day to day.
  • Change tampons regularly, as often as directed on the pack. This is normally every 4-6 hours – 4 hours is preferable.
  • NEVER put a tampon in before your period starts. It's incredibly important that you only use a tampon when you are bleeding.
  • Never insert more than one tampon at a time. If you need extra protection because you are bleeding heavily, either buy tampons with more absorbency (but not too much), or use one tampon and wear a sanitary pad in your knickers if you don't have other tampons.
  • Remember, your vagina will benefit from a rest from tampons. Use pads at night, and towards the end of your periods when your flow is lighter.
  • If you are determined to use tampons at night, insert a fresh tampon immediately before going to bed (lowest absorbency for your flow) and remove it as soon as you wake up. If you are having a lie-in, get up and change your tampon, then go back to bed.
  • Always remove a tampon at the end of your period. This may sound silly but it is not unusual for women to forget they've put a tampon in, and discovered it there a day or so later! Make it a habit to check after every period has finished.
  • You must read the instructions by the manufacturer which are provided in every box of tampons. If you change to a different type or brand of tampon, remember to check those instructions too as they may be slightly different from the other brand you were using.
  • If you have had any vaginal infection, such as Thrush, or any unpleasant discharge, avoid using tampons until you are completely clear from infection.

What should I do if I have these symptoms?

Do not delay. Seek immediate help, and preferably from an Accident & Emergency Hospital – do not wait for a doctor's appointment.

If you are wearing a tampon, remove it, and take it with you for testing. Yes, take it with you because you need to explain that you have been using tampons. Taking quick action is vital and if it turns out to be something else, don't worry. The doctor at the hospital will tell you that it's best to be safe than sorry.

Can TSS be treated?

Yes, TSS is easily treated, which is why you should never wait to see a doctor. Antibiotics are usually given, and there may be other treatment too, depending on your check-up.

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Handling your periods

Where do I get sanitary products?

The first thing to think of is, "is there anyone at home who might have some pads?" The chances are your mum, or a big sister will have these products somewhere - usually in a bathroom cupboard.

If there's no one at home who has any sanitary products, the usual places to get them are:

  • your local corner shop
  • your local pharmacy / chemist
  • all supermarkets
  • all large chemists such as Boots, Superdrug, Lloyds Pharmacy
  • public toilets - great for emergencies if you're shopping in town! Many of them have "dispensing machines" where you can buy a pad or two when you put a few coins in.

Or is there another older girl, family member, friend or family friend you could ask? Even a friend's mum would probably be helpful.

What if no one has any pads they can give me?

That's easily solved - and we can promise you that most women have had to make an emergency pad at some point in their life! There are quite a few ideas to help you until you can get some proper pads. You will need to use your imagination here, but you can easily make a pad as follows:

  • grab some toilet paper, and either
    - roll some around your fingers quite a few times to make a thick roll, or
    - lay out one or two sheets of toilet paper on your leg, repeat that maybe five or six times, fold it over and it will make a thick, absorbent pad
  • use a cotton face flannel/wash cloth - fold over to make a long narrow pad
  • flatten out maybe 4 or 5 tissues or some paper napkins, and fold over to make a long, narrow pad
    • Really, anything that is absorbent will help you in an emergency.

Why do my breasts hurt?

This is due to your hormones again. It's perfectly normal for your breasts to swell a little and feel a bit tender just before your periods. It's only temporary during your period so nothing to worry about.

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Keeping track

Working out your menstrual cycle

It's really important that you do this. You need to have a yearly calendar or a diary. It would be great if you could have one that is specially for your periods so you'll be able to keep a note of important dates and be able to read it easily afterwards. The PoGo Pack™ has a period planner for this exact purpose, and you can download it from our Downloads page.

Note down each and every day that you bleed. You can mark your calendar with a cross, different coloured stickers, or any other symbol you like, as long as you understand it. If you want to, you can use different symbols, showing whether your bleeding or "flow" is light, medium or heavy.

You may not know straight away if your flow is light, medium or heavy, because you won't have anything else to compare it to. As the months go by, however, you'll understand the difference and may want to start recording the amount of flow you have. Anyway, just make sure that for every day you bleed, you mark your calendar.

After a while, you should start to see a pattern emerging – your menstrual cycle. If you do, this is great because you can then begin to expect your periods on certain days. That way you can be prepared and this is the best position to be in.

It might get a bit boring writing down the dates of your periods after a while, especially if it takes more than a year, but just think how great it will be to know when you learn what your cycle is, and when to expect your periods! It will be worth the effort.

Keeping track of your moods too

You may also find it helpful for a while to write down your feelings and moods each day too. You could perhaps use some smiley symbols for this.

Just like your periods, you will begin to notice a pattern to your moods as well. We'll talk about this more in the puberty section.

Keeping your calendars

Your calendars are useful for another reason: if you ever need to see a doctor about your periods (and that's quite rare, by the way), you'll have all the information that will show clearly what's been going on for you. You won't need to remember anything because you've recorded it already!

Your doctor will appreciate this information, including your mood swings, and it will help him or her to give you the help that you need. In fact, if you can find a nice box and somewhere easy to store your calendars, it can sometimes be worthwhile keeping them because you may need to refer back to them in later years.

When you're older, you may be shocked to realise just how much you've grown and matured and it can sometimes be a lovely experience to look back at yourself several years ago. We're sure you'll find that you have a lot to be proud of.

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PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

What is PMS?

This is the name given to various physical and emotional changes that girls experience as part of the menstrual cycle. It is caused by the body's hormones, and begins in the days leading up to your period. Once your period starts, they disappear.

How will I know if I have PMS?

PMS can make you feel quite different in the days before your period. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • feeling moody / getting into arguments
  • feeling tired
  • feeling more sensitive to people, or things
  • crying easily / feeling sad
  • bloating
  • acne (pimples)
  • greasier skin
  • sore or tender breasts
  • headaches
  • cravings for foods, especially chocolate!
  • cramps / period pains

All these symptoms are a natural part of the menstrual cycle. Some girls hardly notice them and others will feeling them in a big way. You may get just a few of these symptoms, or many.

Can I stop PMS from happening?

You can't stop PMS completely because your hormones are in charge. However, you can take good care of yourself during these times.

Pay attention to how you're feeling and think how you can look after yourself, to help yourself feel better. You may want to shut yourself away in your bedroom to be on your own for a while. Maybe a walk would help – exercise is actually great for getting rid of cramps!

Once the PMS has passed, you will begin to feel happier and more energetic again, so make the most of it!

Of course, PMS is part of the menstrual cycle, so it will come round again. This is why it's good to understand the signs so you can plan next time how to make yourself feel better – and we don't mean by shouting at someone!

Things that can help

We're sure you've heard it all before (!) but the following can help you (trust us!):

  • get plenty of sleep
  • get your "5 a day" fruit and vegetables (including dark green leafy ones)
  • eat a small handful of nuts and seeds if you're not allergic to them
  • try some oily fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel
  • drink lots of water to keep hydrated
  • if you're not Vegetarian, a little lean red meat will supply your blood with the iron it needs.

Read our article for more information about how eating the right foods can help.

Warn your friends and family!

If you're feeling yucky because of PMS, keeping it all to yourself really isn't the way to go.

When you begin to understand your menstrual cycle and your PMS symptoms, it can really help your relationships with family and friends if you let them know how you're feeling. Any big sister, mum or auntie will completely understand how you're feeling because they've probably been through it, too. There's nothing nicer than a comforting hug when you're feeling a bit off.

Warn dad, brothers, or male friends, too, that you're not feeling so great so they can give you a bit of space.

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What you really want to know!

Am I normal?

Hmmm ... the word "normal" is used a lot, isn't it? The problem is, what's normal for one girl may not be normal for another. Is one of them wrong? No. Is one of them right? No. There is no right or wrong when we are talking about individual people – and that is what makes each and every person special – everyone is an individual.

PoGo wants you to understand that when it comes to periods and puberty, whatever you are experiencing is right for you. It doesn't matter whether another girl has already grown breasts, and another one hasn't started her periods. That is what is right for them and that's great! It's not a competition.

So yes, you're normal! We talk more about this sort of thing in the puberty section.

Is there anything I can't do while I've got my period?

No! One of the activities that girls tend to feel most anxious about is swimming. There is such a tiny amount of blood lost while swimming that no one is likely to notice anything at all. Just take a towel with you to and from the pool and you can cover up in comfort. The other option is to wear a tampon but, as we have said previously, it is important that you understand the health risks before using them. Please talk to a parent or other adult you trust for advice before using tampons.

Can anyone tell if I've got my period?

No. Even though you might be feeling self-conscious (thinking everyone is staring at you because "they know"), there is nothing for people to notice. After all, can you tell when other girls are having their periods?

What should I wear when I've got my periods?

This is a good thing to think about. You can actually wear anything that you usually wear, but, there is always the possibility that you will leak when you've got your periods. It's quite common and it happens to lots of women.

Wearing very dark, or black knickers is perfect when you've got your periods, because if they get stained, the stains won't show after they've been washed. It's also a great idea to keep certain knickers just for your periods for this reason. You might like to also think about wearing dark coloured jeans just on the safe side.

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Hygiene

Some points about hygiene

Now that your periods have started, personal hygiene (keeping yourself clean) is very important. Although the blood from your periods doesn't smell and is actually a very clean fluid, when it comes in to contact with the air on your pad, it will start to smell after a few hours if you don't change your pad. This is when bacteria (or germs) begin to grow.

  • Feminine wipes – many girls and women like to use these wet wipes that are designed for the pubic area. We think these are unnecessary and a thorough wash with warm water should be enough. However, if you decide to use them, please check the labels carefully before using them for warnings of allergic reactions as some of them contain chemicals and perfumes that can cause unpleasant irritations for some girls.
  • Bathing & showering – washing your pubic area every day will help to keep you feeling clean and fresh, and this is the best thing you can do. When you have your periods, you may feel like washing in the morning when you get up, and after school. It's entirely up to you. Whatever makes you feel fresh and comfortable is great.
  • Always wash you hands before and after you change your sanitary pad or tampon.
  • Keep your sanitary products clean and protected in a little purse, rather than rolling around the bottom of your handbag where they'll get damaged and dirty.

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Getting help

I have really heavy periods. What should I do?

If you are having to change your pads a lot, it would be sensible to speak to a grown–up or doctor about it, especially as you may also be feeling very tired and lacking in energy. It is possible that your heavy periods may be making you anaemic (lacking in iron). Your doctor can check this, and it is easily solved.

You might also like to think about your diet. See our feature How foods can help your periods for ideas.

Period Pains / Cramps

You may get a dull pain below your tummy or in your lower back just before or during your period. This pain is called "period pain" or "cramps". This is perfectly normal. If it gets too painful, there are a few things you can try:

  • Ask an adult for a mild painkiller, like paracetamol. It's best to avoid iboprufen as this has been associated with bleeding of the stomach!
  • Put a hot water bottle over the area in pain – and make sure it's covered so you don't scald yourself!
  • A heated lavender pack will also give nice pain relief, and it smells nice too!
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Get some gentle exercise! Believe it or not, getting your body moving is one of the best things to do.

You might also consider looking at what you eat. The nutrients in some foods can be really helpful for lessening period pains, and making your periods more regular, though you need to allow some months for these improvements. Take a look at our feature How foods can help your periods.

What if you haven't got a grown up you can easily talk to about periods?

Maybe your school nurse could help you out, or your big sister – or a friend's big sister? They'll have been through it all already and would probably be really pleased to help you. The nurse at your doctor's surgery is also a good person to contact as she will be understanding, and want to help you. Don't forget grandma either. She may be old but she's been through it and might be rather pleased that you've turned to her for help.

There are also lots of good books about puberty. Check out More Useful Stuff or why not go to your local library?

I've got a smelly discharge and itching sensation in my vagina.
What should I do?

There can be different reasons why this happens, and it may be something called "thrush". Very occasionally it might caused by an allergic reaction to sanitary pads or tampons or feminine wipes. This problem is easily solved with some treatment from the doctor, so please make an appointment as soon as possible. There is no need to be embarrassed about this as many women get thrush or other sorts of infections occasionally.

What if something just doesn't seem quite right?

It is very, very rare for something to go wrong with a girl's periods, but you know your body better than anyone, so if something is really bothering you, do talk to someone, and see a doctor if necessary. Remember to take your period planner so they can see what's been happening with your bleeding.

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Myths and fun facts

Greek beginnings

Your very first period is known as the menarche, which comes from the Greek words mén "month" + arkhé "beginning".

The influence of the moon

For centuries there has been a strong belief in a connection between periods and the moon. The reason is that the moon's lunar cycle is 28 days (ie the time it takes for the moon to revolve around the Earth) and it was believed that because a woman's menstrual cycle was generally 28 days the menstrual cycle must be affected by the lunar cycle! But as you know, not every girl or woman has a menstrual cycle of 28 days.

In case you haven't noticed, the design of the flower inside the PoGo Pack™ has a little crescent moon in the centre.

The Samaritans

Around 1938, a man called Chad Varah became a minister in the church. His first job had been to bury a 14 year old girl who had killed herself after her periods had started, thinking she had some terrible disease. She didn't know that she had begun menstruating and that it was perfectly normal. Sadly, she’d had no one to talk to.

This tragedy remained in Chad Varah’s mind as he continued helping others through his work in the church. In 1953 he set up The Samaritans, which offers a confidential telephone helpline for people who feel desperate and need a kind, non-judgemental person to talk to.

If that 14 year old girl had had someone to talk to, someone she could trust with her “secret”, she would probably have got the help she needed.

Different sayings

You may often hear different expressions or sayings for periods, for example:

  • it's that time of the month"
  • a woman is "coming on"
  • falling off the roof!

Women in tune

In the early 1970s it was suggested that women who spend a lot of time together end up having their periods at the same time, meaning that their bodies were somehow in tune with each other. It hasn't been proven, but see what happens with your friends, or in families with mums/daughters/sisters.

Many cultural differences

The subject of periods is treated in many different ways in different cultures. In some, there are things that a woman should not do when she has her periods – such as wash her hair, go to school (!), or eat cold food, as just a few examples.

In various Eastern European cultures a long time ago, girls had their faces slapped by their mother, grandmother or father when they started their periods! It is clear that no one knows exactly why. It appears to be simply that the adult women had it done to them as part of some long-held tradition, and so they slapped their daughter's face. Fortunately, this doesn't happen much now!

However, in many cultures, the arrival of a girl's first period is often a cause of celebration because periods are a sign that she is growing up and developing into a young woman. The girl may have a special meal prepared for her, or all the women in the village may spend the day with her to teach her the things she needs to know.

An old Slovak tradition in Eatern Europe was for menstruating girls to be pulled across the snow-covered fields in sleds. This was believed to make the earth fertile (healthy) for growing the crops in the springtime.

We would love to hear from you about the sayings, beliefs or stories that your mums or grandmothers might have grown up with – especially ones from different cultures. We will publish the best ones on the website.