Coping with your periods at school

Many girls feel really self conscious and nervous about getting their periods at school but it's really not a big deal. Every girl will have her periods at school at some point, so you are not alone. It's a normal part of being a young woman.

women's toilet signWhen you think about it, lots of girls may be having their periods at the same time as you, but it's not obvious. There's not a big neon arrow above a girl's head saying "She's got her period!" The more relaxed and organised you can be, the better the chances of no one noticing and you being comfortable and feeling in control.

If you don't know much about periods and they haven't started yet, the sooner you start learning the better. Just visit the Girls' pages for the section All about periods for lots of information that will help you.

Most primary schools will give you a talk about periods and puberty in Year 5 or 6, so make sure that you listen well and watch the demonstrations closely. Your parent or guardian might also be invited, so it's a perfect chance for you to talk about periods at home, so you can be really well prepared in case they start at school.

Top Tips

1. Have a kit prepared

Always have a little kit of products that you keep at school. This kit should include:

  • 2 pantyliners
  • 2 pads - with or without wings
  • 2 tampons (only if you are already using them)
  • 1 spare pair of knickers
  • coins for any dispensing machine in the toilets
  • a packet of tissues in case there is no toilet paper!
  • and a cute purse to keep it all in.

The PoGo Pack™ has all of these items and includes a pull-out purse for school too.

Disposal bags aren't vital for school, and they can be a bit noisy when you're in the toilet, but you may prefer to have some.

Keep your kit in your school bag or locker so it's always available, and remember to replace any items so you don't get caught out in the future.

Never let your sanitary products rumble around the bottom of a bag unless they're in a purse because you shouldn't use products that have become dirty or damaged.

2. Practise!

If you haven't started your periods yet, it's a good idea to practise putting some pads in your knickers and wearing them for a while. This way, you'll know exactly what to do when they do start, and it won't feel completely strange and uncomfortable.

toilet doors

3. Know your toilets

If you haven't already thought about this, check to see which of the toilets at school have special sanitary disposal bins in them. These special bins are provided for used sanitary pads and tampons - nothing else. They have a lid that's designed to hide anything inside.

If you can use those toilets when you have your periods, you'll have a much easier time getting rid of your used pads or tampons.

4. Disposing of used pads and tampons

disposing of pad
Please develop good, clean habits when it comes to getting rid of your used sanitary pads or tampons.

Used sanitary pads and tampons should be wrapped in toilet paper or a disposal bag, and disposed of correctly in the sanitary bins provided. You must never put pads or tampons down toilets as they can block them and cause terrible damage, leading to expensive repairs.

disposal binWhen putting a used pad or tampon into the bins, it's important that you wrap it in lots of toilet paper first. Unwrapped pads might stick to the lid of the bin and that's just horrible for everyone else. If there are no special bins, you will have to put your used pad into the bins by the washbasins. Again, please make sure that they are well wrapped.

Never leave used sanitary pads or tampons lying around on the floor, which is quite disgusting and really unpleasant for other girls to find.

Some tampons have outer cases. Please put these in the bin too and don't leave them floating in the toilet.

washing hands

5. Good hygiene is important

Remember to wash your hands with soapy water after you have changed your pads. If you are using tampons, you must wash your hands before you change them too, as you don't want to be transferring any germs to your vaginal area.

Always be considerate to other girls using the toilets by wiping down the toilet seat if necessary.

6. Emergency supplies

If you can't get to your locker, or you don't have any pads, you may be able to buy some from the dispensing machine in the girls' toilets. If your school doesn't have one, you can make a pad out of toilet paper (or even some paper towel), which should get you through to the next break. There are two ways to do this:

  • roll the toilet paper around your other hand a few times to make a thick wad and place in your knickers, or
  • lay out flat two squares of toilet paper (resting this on your leg), and repeat this backwards & forwards a few times. Fold the paper over lengthwise and place inside your knickers.

Either of these two should give you enough protection till the next break, when you can ask for a sanitary pad from another girl, or one of the staff, eg your form teacher, school nurse, or at the medical room.

7. Asking to be excused from class

Probably the most difficult situation is if your periods start while you're in class. A female teacher will completely understand if you raise your hand and ask to have a quiet word. Simply explain that you need the toilet because your periods have started. girl raising hand

It can feel much more embarrassing with a male teacher. You'll just have to work up the courage to ask if you can go to the toilet. If he asks why, just say quietly, "Girl stuff". He'll get it! Most male teachers are really okay about this so it's not likely to be as bad as you imagine. If it really bothered them, they wouldn't teach girls!

8. Clever hiding places

Okay, so there will be times when you know you'll have your period but you can't carry a purse with your products, or you can't get to your locker. What can you do? Tuck a thin pad or tampon into your bra, inside your sock, or inside your knickers on the hip bone. You could carry one inside a folder inside a plastic pocket, but make sure it doesn't fall out!

9. Do periods smell?

Girls often worry about periods smelling. The blood itself does not smell. It's only when the blood soaks into the pad and after a while the air will cause bacteria on the pad to develop. This is what causes a smell. However, as long as you change your pad regularly, this will not be a problem. Bad hygiene is the only problem. Also, having a bath or shower every day is important, and helps to stop any body smells.

10. Should you tell someone?

If you're still at primary school, you should definitely tell your teacher. They will want to know and will either help you themselves, or find another lady or school nurse to help. Also, if it's your very first period, it would be nice if they would call your parent because you might be feeling a bit shaken up by what's happened.

Even if you're at secondary school, it can be comforting to tell someone – maybe your favourite teacher, the school nurse or a friend. People will want to help you and give you reassurance if it's your first period.

mother & daughter
Do tell someone when you get home too. This is a really important event for you and they need to know so they can give you some support and get you a supply of the products you'll need. If you feel a bit embarrassed – which is perfectly natural – the only thing you have to say is "I've started my periods".

Some girls dread the fuss that their parents will make. If you're feeling confident, then just tell them your periods have started, you don't want a fuss and please can they get you some products? You might also suggest they buy you a book about periods and puberty if you don't have one already. See our recommended books in More Useful Stuff.

11. Pain killers for period pain

If you find that you are getting period pain or cramps, it's a good idea to check with your school whether you're allowed to take painkillers into school. Many schools don't allow this. If you need something for period pain, you will need to go to the medical room. Once you're home, you can try different things to help with the pain. See our section on period pain in All about periods.

12. What to wear

Depending on your school uniform rules, you might like to get yourself a pair of black sporty lycra shorts to wear over your knickers, under your skirt or trousers. Lycra shorts stop your pad and knickers from moving around, which will give you confidence, especially if you're doing any sporting activities. Some knickers with lycra in them would be good if wearing shorts isn't allowed.

13. What if you have an accident?

girl with jumper around waistIt's happened to every girl and woman at some point. They find that they've leaked and their knickers are stained, and sometimes their skirt or trousers. Yes, it is embarrassing if it happens to you. Hopefully you'll realise before anyone else does. You probably need to speak to a teacher. They may agree that you can change into your sports pants, or your parent may need to bring a change of clothes to school for you.

A quick-fix idea is to wrap your jumper around your waist, and that may be enough to get you through the day.

The best way to get blood stains out of clothing is to soak them in cold water, mixed with something like Biotex, and then washing with detergent and more stain remover. If you soak in hot water, you will "fix" the stain and it will never come out.

14. Can I go swimming?

You can. It is believed that the pressure of the water stops you bleeding whilst you're in the water, but of course it then starts immediately as soon as you get out. You can wrap a towel around yourself quickly and get straight into the showers. Rinse your swimsuit out in cold water to get any blood out.

Some girls will want to use tampons. This is a choice that requires a lot of thinking before you decide as it is unwise to use tampons until your periods have settled down into a regular, reliable pattern. See our section on Sanitary protection in All about periods.

15. Ask for a class discussion

Whatever worries or questions you may have about handling periods at school, other girls will be thinking the same. Perhaps you could ask your form teacher for a 10-minute class discussion for girls about how to manage your periods at your school. It will help everyone to find out who to ask for pads, what's the policy if you stain your clothes, whether different clothing is allowed, girls' clever ideas for carrying pads or tampons, etc.

There seems to be a lot of embarrassment around periods, which is a shame because having periods is one of the most natural things on earth. If the girls in your class can have an open discussion with a teacher, then it makes the subject much more acceptable to everyone. In fact, it's important that boys, too, understand that girls have periods and what that means. If asking to be excused from class makes girls particularly uncomfortable, perhaps you could come up with a code word that means you have your period so teachers won't quiz you as to why you need to get to the toilet!

Also, does your school have enough sanitary bins and a dispensing machine in the toilet? If not, speak to someone on the school council to see if improvements can be made.

We hope these ideas will help you to manage your periods at school. You simply need to be prepared so your periods don't interfere with your school day.

Next month's feature from PoGo: How to buy the right bra for girls

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