I was 11 when I got my first period. My initial response was jubilation – I felt like I'd been invited to a special club. I'm a woman now, I remember thinking as I eyed my refection in the bathroom mirror.
It was a Saturday morning, and that meant swimming lessons. My mum, who wanted to teach me that life doesn't stop when you've got your period, encouraged me to try a tampon. She showed me the diagram on the instruction leaflet and hovered on the other side of the bathroom door while I tried to put it in. It was painful, uncomfortable and a bit of a shock.
After that it took many years for me to get comfortable with tampons. In the interim I used pads. I lost count of the times they leaked – most embarrassingly at school. On one day my teacher refused to let me go to the bathroom during a lesson, the result was a huge stain on my summer school dress and a lasting feeling of humiliation.
With primary school age daughters growing up fast, I have given the subject of sanitary protection a great deal of thought. I use a menstrual cup now (something my girls have become familiar with after frequently waking in on me in the bathroom). But like tampons, menstrual cups take a bit of getting used to and aren't really ideal for youngsters who've only just started menstruating.
Thanks to new technology, girls getting their periods now have another option – period undies. There are several bands on the market such as Modibodi and Thinx, but they do the same thing – they act like a pad, without being a pad. They are reusable, environmentally friendly and most importantly – easy to use.
Period knickers use several layers of material that can wick moisture away and fight bacteria. This keeps you feeling dry and keeps odour away too. They also have an absorbent layer that can hold as much blood as two tampons. Perfect for the school day.
Using period knickers takes away the need to change pads during the day – something that young girls can find embarrassing (there were no sanitary bins in the loos at my primary school. I was too embarrassed to ask my teacher what to do with used pads, so I wrapped them in tissue and put them in my school bag). And unlike tampons, they're easy to use.
I asked general practitioner, Dr Michelle Groves, if she thinks period undies are a good idea for girls and young teens. She tells me that while there aren't any medical reasons youngsters can't use tampons or menstrual cups they might not be ready emotionally.
"I think it is much easier for young girls who have only had a very few periods to use sanitary pads, and with gentle education and direction from a parent/guardian, to introduce different products depending on how comfortable they are with them," she says.
In addition to this, Dr Groves notes that tampons do come with some risks. "Tampons can lead to serious infections if not changed regularly [likewise the cup]. There is also a risk that it will be forgotten and then become lodged inside the vagina needing a doctor to remove it," she explains.
Dr Groves tells me that period undies could be a good alternative to pads. "I think that they are one solution for all menstruating girls to help control and manage the flow each month," she says.
I wish that period undies had been around when I was a kid. But I'm thankful that they've arrived in time for my daughters.