Monday, January 09, 2012

In the Beginning…There Was Menarche

By Michelle Schnaars

6 January 2012

Menarche is the first menstrual period a girl or young woman gets. The average global age for menarche is anywhere from 10 to 13 years of age.

The beginning of a period can mean different things to different girls. It can be an exciting time in your life, filled with anticipation, expectation, and sometimes fear of the unknown. Some girls think about it a lot, while others don’t think about it at all. Some think there’s something physically wrong with them the first time they get it. With this article, I aim to show that ‘normal’ encompasses a wide range of feelings, experiences, and options. So, whether you slide in to this new chapter in your life easily, or go kicking and screaming, at least you’ll know that this is indeed a healthy time in your life, and that your body is doing what it’s supposed to do.

You might want to know what you can expect from your first period. It might surprise you to know that it might not occur every month, or that you’ll feel sick, and the color of the blood might not be bright red. In her article, I Got My Period and Thought I was Dying, Jessica Gottlieb shares a great point. Gottlieb says, “I went to the restroom and as I took down my pants I saw brown on my underwear.” It’s possible that you too might experience this brown discharge instead of bright red blood.

Maybe you’ve wondered if there’s a way to know you’re period is impending. Well, there sort of is a way to know that it’s about to make it’s appearance. Aside from sore and growing breasts and mood swings, you might also notice a whitish or clear discharge coming from your vagina. This can start about 6 months or so before getting your first period. This discharge is common, there’s no need to worry about it unless it has a strong odor or causes itching. If this happens have your mom take you to see your family doctor, or a gynecologist. Sometimes girls get minor infections, and it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. You just might need some help getting over it.

This white discharge will usually appear in the middle of your cycle each month. And, some girls will have this each month before their period starts. You might notice this discharge a few days each month before your period starts. This can be an indication that you’re ovulating. (More about this later).

Now, using a common questions format, I’ll break this down into small pieces. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect from your menstrual period:

When will my period start? As I mentioned earlier, the global range is 10 to 13 years old. But, it can start as early as 8 or as late as 15 years of age. Just because your mom, sister, aunt, or friend got their period at age 11 it doesn't mean you will too. And, just because your friends are getting theirs, doesn't mean you'll get your's anytime soon. Be patient and enjoy this time in your life.

Will I get cramps? Some girls notice cramping in their abdomen or lower back, you might even cramp in your vagina. You’ve probably heard of PMS, premenstrual syndrome, the symptoms include irritability, fatigue, food cravings, nausea, headache, bloating (water retention in your breasts and abdomen), and breast tenderness. Not every one experiences PMS, and not everyone experiences all of these symptoms.

Will it come every month? Your period may be irregular for the first year, and will become regular over time. You might bleed for the first time, and then wait months before it returns. Use a personal calendar to mark when your period comes. You can do this by placing a check mark in the upper right-hand corner, and then mark each day you have your period with this check mark. Over time this record will help you to see when you’re most likely to get it each month, and you can have pads on hand.

How much will I bleed? You will pass about 3 tablespoons of blood during your period, with an average of 6 to 9 tablespoons. It’s important that you know the blood flows out of your uterus and through your vagina.

What will the blood be like? The color of the blood can be bright red, brown, or rusty red. All of these colors are normal. Periods are also described in terms like flow and spotting. This means the amount of blood you pass during your period. Most girls start out with a light flow. And, spotting literally means spotting. It’s when a small amount, like a spot, of blood comes out.

When should I wear a pad? You already know to wear one when you’re bleeding. But, you’ll also wear one when you have the white discharge. Wear one to bed too, because even though you’ve gone to sleep, you won’t stop bleeding. You can also wear one as back-up for a tampon or cup, and on light days when you’re spotting.

Can I get pregnant now? Conception (conceiving a baby) happens when a woman and a man have sex. A woman can become pregnant once she starts ovulating, if you have your period, than you’re ovulating too. Check marking your personal calendar, as we discussed above, will help you to determine your cycle. A cycle is how many days from one period to the next. A cycle can be 28, 30, or even 40 days. To determine your cycle, start counting the days from the start of one period to the start of the next period. If you count 28 days from the first day, to the next day, then you have a 28 day cycle, if 30 days then you have a 30 day cycle, etc. To determine when you’re ovulating cut the number in half. Example, cut 28 in half and you have 14, this means you’re ovulating about 14 days after you’ve started bleeding.

Your period is a time of practice for your body for the time when someday you’ll get pregnant. Every month when you have your period, your uterus is making a place for the baby. Blood and other fluid builds up on the walls of your uterus, since there’s no baby, you shed this lining and have a period.

You’ll also notice other changes taking place, these include:

  • Breast tenderness and growth.

  • Hair growth under your arms, on your legs, and on your pubic area (the space between your legs).

  • Breakouts, also known as pimples or zits.

  • Oily hair

  • And, you may have noticed that you sweat more or even an odor after a long day or exercising.

Taking care of yourself: If you notice body odor or oily hair take a shower every day or every other day. And, you can use the same soap you shower with to wash your face in between showers to help reduce the chances of breakouts occurring, and to help heal existing ones.

Period care: There are many options for period care available to you. These include disposable pads and tampons, and cloth pads, and menstrual cups.

Cups, tampons, and pads come in different sizes to fit different body sizes, and the flow of your period. When starting your period you most likely will use a smaller size cup or tampon, a good pad size for beginning or for lighter days is 6 or 8 inches. This size is also good for young girls and teens.

Period kits are excellent things to have on-hand before your period starts, that will go a long way in helping to feel, as well as to be, prepared for when your period starts. You will find links to websites that tell you about menstrual care products and options right here, feminine hygiene care and information.

A Teen Kit usually includes:

3 pads, to wear during the day and at night.

3 underwear liners, for lighter days or spotting, or as a back-up for tampons or cups.

A carrying bag for when you’re out of the house (to take to school, etc.), and for storing in between use. You can also look into wet/dry bags, and laundry bags.

And, a booklet of information about menarche and periods.

The thing to remember is that this is your own experience. It’s all about you and the wonderful changes that are taking place; although, it might not always feel wonderful. At least now you know what to expect and what options are available to you.

If you still have questions, talk with your mom, sister, or a trusted woman in your life. You’re also welcome to email me at

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