Parent Buzz Newsletter - Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
The Parent Buzz
A Newsletter for Parents from Let's Be Honest
July 2009 - Issue 16
In This Issue
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Welcome to The Parent Buzz, an e-newsletter designed especially for parents and caregivers of middle school-aged children by Let's Be Honest, the Parent Education program of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

mother and daughter
If your daughter is approaching menstruation, you can make the whole process easier and more comfortable for her (and you) by talking to her openly about what it means to have your "period." It's very important to begin to teach girls about the changes their bodies will go through during puberty - and especially menstruation - before they get their first period. But it is never too late to start! Girls often begin to menstruate between the ages of 9 and 16, with the average age being around 12. You can help your daughter understand what is happening before it happens. While it's important to know about the biology behind menstruation, don't let that be the only thing you talk about. Use language that your daughter can relate to and remember that many girls have concerns about all the little details such as: Will I still be able to swim and do sports? Will it hurt? What do I do about the blood? Why haven't I gotten my period yet when all my friends have it? As well as how starting their period might change their lives and their relationships.

Over the centuries, menstruation has been referred to by many different names, some more positive than others; "having your period," "my friend," "that time of the month," or "the curse." If you teach her that menstruation is a normal, healthy part of her life she will feel a lot more comfortable and a lot less scared about growing into a woman. There are many cultures and families that choose to acknowledge the event in a special way by having a celebration or ceremony to formally welcome a daughter to womanhood. These rites of passage can be a positive way to replace the silence, shame, and embarrassment that often accompany menstruation with understanding, acceptance and celebration of what it means to be a woman.
To get you started with your conversations, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Start early.
We often think of blood as a sign of something awful. So if your daughter doesn't know what to expect, her first period could be a very frightening experience. Start talking about the changes that take place in a woman's body (using language that is age appropriate) as she matures as normal and healthy.

Take care of the basics.
Teach her about what menstruation is and how it fits into the reproductive cycle. You can start with simple concepts (many children are already familiar with the concept of a cycle - such as the water cycle, the cycle of the seasons, a butterfly). Then you can add more information as your daughter grows and asks questions.

Be concrete.
While girls need to know why their bodies are changing and what to expect, talking about menstruation as "a passage into womanhood" may be a bit too abstract. Mothers can model what it is like having your period by talking about it when they have theirs (while respecting privacy). Give concrete tips. Your daughter will want to know how to get rid of used pads, how often to change a pad or tampon, what to do if her period comes when she is at school, what to do if she has cramps and how to take care of her clothes if she has a leak. Make sure she understands the importance of changing her tampon or pad regularly. It is also an important time to stress cleanliness and personal hygiene.

Be positive.
Menstruation is a part of being a woman. Your positive values and attitude towards menstruation as a normal bodily function can affect her own feelings about getting her period. If your daughter knows that you think it is an important step in growing up, she will have a more positive attitude towards menstruation and will probably be more willing to talk to you about any problems or questions she has. In addition, educating our sons about menstruation can help to develop their positive attitudes about the natural and normal reproductive cycle as well as to let them know that you are a good resource for information about sexual health.

Your daughter may have some of her facts wrong. There are a lot of myths and negative ideas out there about menstruation. If you listen to what your daughter is telling you, and ask her what she has already learned from her peers, you can help her separate fact from fiction. Peers are an important influence during adolescence. If she gets her period ahead of her peers, or if most of her peers get their periods before her, she may need reassurance that she is fine, that everyone is different and that her time will come.

Help her listen to her body.
Your daughter may have a different experience than you did with her period. You can teach her to notice the signs that mean her period is coming and how to deal with any pain or discomfort. You can also help her keep track of her cycle (while you track your own) on the calendar.
Just For Dads

Dads, don't despair! You have an important role to play as well, either as a single Dad and the primary parent, or as a partner in guiding your daughter through puberty and adolescence. Menstruation is not just women's business! Whether you like it or not, it's your business too!

Read and find out about puberty and menstruation. Get comfortable with what is going to happen. Be ready to answer questions or bring the topic up, if she is comfortable discussing it with you. Your attitude can either open or close doors.

If you are a single Dad or the primary caregiver, it might be helpful to find some woman that your daughter trusts and is comfortable with to talk with her about puberty and menstruation. It might also help you to have a back-up if you have any questions of your own.

Check your behavior and your actions. Don't use humor at your daughter's expense. Be respectful - both towards the process of menstruation and your daughter's comfort level in talking with you.
Typical Questions and How to Address Them with Your Adolescent

When will my daughter get her first period?
Menstruation (a period, or the time of bleeding) is one of the many signs that a girl is turning into a woman. The first period (called menarche) happens when all the parts of a girl's reproductive system have matured and are working together. Most girls start menstruating between the ages of 9 and 16. Some get their periods when they are quite young, some when they already have a few years of high school behind them. This is normal. As a young girl begins to go through puberty, her body releases hormones that help get her ready to become pregnant. Her breasts begin to develop; she may develop pubic hair and have an increased amount of clear vaginal discharge. These are just signs that the inside of her body is changing as well.

What's going on?
Inside, your daughter's body is getting ready for a possible pregnancy. Don't panic! That's just part of the whole process of growing up. Your daughter is starting her menstrual cycle. About once a month an egg leaves the ovaries, travels down the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. At the same time the lining of the uterus is becoming thicker to make a cushion for a potentially fertilized egg. If no egg is fertilized, the lining of the uterus begins to break down so it can be shed (along with the egg that was not fertilized). This is when menstrual bleeding begins and the cycle continues all over again.

How often, how long and how much?
A cycle is the time from the first day of bleeding in one month to the last day before bleeding in the next month. The first day of bleeding is Day 1 of a girl's cycle.
  • How often will she get her period? A cycle usually lasts about 28 days (and can range from 21 to 36 days). But it takes a while before a girl's body settles into a regular cycle and so it is very normal for young women to have an irregular cycle during her first year of menstruating. A girl can have a 28 day cycle for 3 months, and then miss a month or have two periods close together. As a girl gets older and her periods settle into a cycle that is normal for her, she will probably find that she can predict when her periods will come. Keeping a calendar right from the start is a good habit to get into.
  • How long will it last? Some girls have a period that lasts just 2 or 3 days, others may have periods that last 7 days or longer. In the beginning it may change from cycle to cycle. This is normal.
  • How much blood will she lose? Any amount of blood looks like a lot, especially the first time you experience your period! You can assure your daughter that most women lose anywhere from a few spoonfuls to less than half a cup during the whole time they are bleeding. The amount of blood, the length of her period and the time between periods can differ from month to month and from woman to woman.

Should she use a pad or a tampon?
Many women use a combination of products - tampons or a cup and pads, pads at night time, and different sizes of pads and/or tampons during different phases of their period. A young woman will probably start with slender or light styles because her period may not be as heavy and her body is smaller. There is no right age to begin to use tampons, cups or sponges - if that is an option your daughter wants to try. Many young women first need to get comfortable with their body parts and with inserting an object into their vagina correctly. Some girls have a small vaginal opening and it may be difficult and uncomfortable for them to insert a tampon or a cup. In this case, it might be a good idea to wait a little while until they are older and their vaginal opening has stretched out.
Additional Resources

For more information about menstruation and talking to your daughter about her period, check out these website resources:

A Guide to Using Your First Tampon Children's Hospital Boston, Center for Young Women's Health

A Guide to Puberty and Menstrual Cycles Children's Hospital Boston, Center for Young Women's Health

Source: Sexuality and U: Your Link to Sexual Well-Being: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada

Don't forget to visit our website for helpful tips, information about workshops, and much more. Don't miss an opportunity to be the primary sexuality educator for your children. Need help? Call our Parent Education Team at (617) 616-1658.

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Parent Education
Planned Parenthood League of MA

phone: (617) 616-1658
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