How to prepare your daughter for her first period

Preparing girls for the changes ahead.
Preparing girls for the changes ahead. Photo: Getty Images

I was 11 when I got my first period. I was still at primary school and my sprouting breasts and hips had already caused me much embarrassment. So when I saw the blood in my undies my pubescent heart sank.

My mum told me that I was becoming a woman; she talked me through tampons and sanitary towels. She said I'd have to get used to it – 'you'll have it every month until menopause' – she joked (or warned).

Mum told me that it didn't have to change anything. But it did change things. And although my body was maturing I didn't have the confidence to match. My period was a burden. I dreaded its monthly arrival and did my best to hide it. 

These days, with two daughters of my own, I'm not so great at hiding it. Over the years they have walked into the bathroom to see me changing tampons (and more recently emptying my menstrual cup) more times than I can count. There have been a lot of questions.

Dr Dasha Fielder says that if young children are curious about menstruation then it's worth starting the period conversation early.

"Explain it to them using simple language, draw a picture if you need to," she suggests.

Even if your daughters are not bathroom invaders, it's important to start talking to them about their periods way before they show any signs of puberty. Dr Fielder suggests that seven to eight years of age is a good time to begin.

"It's important to normalise it. Periods are part of normal development and all girls and women have them," she says.

Dr Fielder says that while you might feel embarrassed we should try to be matter-of-fact. She also says it's a good idea to use correct terms for body parts. 

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If you need some extra help to explain female biology then Dr Fielder says that there are some excellent resources on puberty on the Family planning website.

So what about the practical stuff? Dr Fielder says that sanitary pads are the best option for girls. "Pads are safe, convenient and relatively comfortable," she explains. 

Dr Fielder notes that it is important to teach girls to change pads regularly - every three to four hours.

As for tampons and menstrual cups, Dr Fielder says that she doesn't recommend them for young girls.

Periods are a fact of life, they may not be glamorous, but they do signal the beginning of womanhood and are therefore a rite of passage. So are they something we should be celebrating with our daughters?

Blogger Lisa Carpenter thinks so. She threw each of her daughters a 'period party' when they started menstruating. The parties, which were kept to close family, involved eating cake and dancing.

"Not only did the simple celebrations create fond memories, I think they had an impressive impact on how my daughters view their periods, as they have never used their period as a reason to 'sit out' of activities or stay home from school or get away with bad behaviour just because 'it's that time of month,'" Lisa explains.

Of course, this approach definitely isn't for everyone. But that doesn't mean you can't mark the occasion. Other popular ideas include putting together a 'first period kit' (a little bag of sanitary towels, personal wipes and new undies) buying her a period tracking bracelet or simply taking her out for one-on-one mother daughter time.

I don't have happy memories of my first period. But I hope that with the right preparation, keeping the conversation going and maybe some black forest gateaux, my daughters will have a very different experience.

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