You probably waited for it, wondering when you'd get it, not wanting to be the last one of your friends to have it, and when it finally did arrive, you probably secretly wished it would go away again. The first menstrual period is an unavoidable event that separates the girls from the women. Everyone will react to their first period differently, but it shouldn't be scary - all women will go through it. Some cultures even see it as a right of passage to be celebrated.
What is Menarche?
The onset of menstruation is called menarche, pronounced men-are-key. Most girls realize their first period has started when they notice a spot of blood on their underwear. This blood can be bright red or dark brown, so don't worry if it's not the colour you were expecting. You can use a sanitary pad, tampon or menstrual cup to catch the blood.
Generally, a woman's period lasts from three to seven days, usually starting off heavy and gradually tapering off. Typically, the number of days from the start of one menstrual period until the start of the next is 28, but can vary anywhere from 20 to 35 days. Irregular periods are also common, especially when you've just started to menstruate. Some women get their first periods and then don't have it again for several months. It may take up to two years for your period to become regulated.
When Menarche Occurs
Since puberty occurs at different times for every person, menarche also happens at different times for every woman. Generally, menarche occurs during the middle phases of puberty, around the same time, or slightly after, pubic hair begins to grow. Remember, not everyone will experience the onset of puberty at the same time, and how long the different stages of development last is an individual thing. Some women get their periods at the age of nine and some don't get it until they're 15. A good indicator of when menarche will occur in a girl is when her mother or older sisters started their periods.
If a girl hasn't experience menarche by the age of 16, she is classified as having primary amenorrhea, also called delayed menarche. The cause of amenorrhea is usually late onset of puberty, which is common in girls who are very thin, very athletic, or suffer from anorexia or bulimia, and have not experienced the normal puberty-related rise in body fat that triggers menarche. Less common, delayed menarche can be caused by Turner's Syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by a missing X chromosome (girls normally have two X chromosomes), or by abnormal formation of the reproductive organs. If a girl has not started menstruating by the age of 16, she should see her doctor.
Symptoms - What to Expect
There are as many different experiences of menstruation as there are women. A girl's first period may be heavy or light, it may last for a week or more, or just a few days. Some girls will have menstrual cramps and some will not. The intensity of menstrual cramp pain and the locations of the pain can also vary. Some women will experience only slight cramping in their lower abdomen while others may also have cramping in their lower backs or legs. Headaches, dizziness or fainting, nausea, constipation or diarrhea can also accompany menstrual cramps. A good indicator of what your menstrual symptoms will be is what your mother's are, or were when she first started her period.
Try to establish an open and honest dialogue about the body with your child before the onset of puberty. This is a very challenging time for children and they need to know that they have your love and support, and that they can come to you with questions. You daughter may not want to tell you when she begins to menstruate. You should let her know that it's not shameful or dirty. Talking about your first period is often helpful. Fathers, be supportive, but understand that your daughter might not want to discuss this with you.
Some cultures consider menarche to be a sacred event, a time in a woman's life to be celebrated, or a rite of passage into adulthood. The word menstruation comes from the Greek root "men" meaning month and "mensus" meaning moon. During spring festivals in Ancient Greece, menstrual blood from a "young maiden" was combined with corn and spread on fields to increase the fertility of the land. The Hindus have a creation myth that all life was created from the menstrual blood of the Great Mother.
In most modern societies, menarche is not ritualistically celebrated, however, some people are bringing back the tradition. Some mothers throw parties for their daughters, or give gifts to celebrate their womanhood. While this is not necessary, menarche should not be viewed as shameful, but seen as something that mother and daughter can share and bond over.