I still remember, exactly, when I got my period. I was 11, and I was wearing my mom’s undies because we were staying at my grandparents’ and I didn’t have any extra. Making it worse, it was the day before seventh grade started. Talk about mortification–I had to tell my mom I was bleeding all over her underwear, only to be topped off by the fact that I had to start Junior High with a big ol’ pad. It was the worst, and I hid it from my friends for as long as I could because I was so embarrassed. It shouldn’t have to be like this–getting a period is, obviously, a natural step to being a woman. But, how do you explain this to your tween? Breezy Mama turned to Dr. Lissa Rankin, M.D. , founder of the online wellness community OwningPink.com, OB/GYN and the author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, for some expert advice on how to initiate the talk, what to say, and what we should know about our young daughter’s period.
You state that many girls get their period at age 8, but at what age should we explain what a period is?
I think you can’t start too early. My 5 year old daughter already knows that when girls get older, they start having blood come out of their vagina, and when that happens, they can have babies. We haven’t had the birds and the bees talk yet, because it hasn’t come up, but she knows about periods and hopefully wouldn’t be caught off guard when hers appears one day.
How do we start the “period” talk?
Again, I think it depends on your child- you know your child better than anyone else. But I think we need to have the talk no later than 8, since some girls will start their periods at this age. Certainly, watch for physical signs of development- pubic and axillary hair, breast buds, mood swings, acne. If you notice any of these, her period could be right around the corner, so start talking!
When having the talk, what exactly do we say? Is there a book for moms to brush up on their own knowledge?
My mother gave me the book What’s Happening To Me, which is still a bestseller after all these years! She read it with me and gave me the opportunity to ask questions. If you pick a special day to make this happen- maybe bake cookies together, go out to lunch, take a hike- then you can make the whole experience fun, which will set you up for a lifetime of intimate talks with your daughter. If you’re not sure what to say or how to get started, you can find helpful tips and connect with other Moms at Kotex.com/tween. Or if you want to learn more about the female body yourself so you feel more empowered to help your daughter, read my book What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend before having the talk.
This is how I can see “the talk” happening to me and my daughter: I would over compensate with the clinical side as a result of feeling embarrassed. Then, I could see my daughter’s eyes glazing over because I’m going into too much detail. How much “clinical talk” should I provide?
You don’t have to offer too much information on your first chat. Tell her the nuggets- that her body will start making hormones and her hormones will cause some changes, like she might start developing breasts, get hair on her vulva, and start bleeding from her vagina. If you’ve still got her attention, tell her what periods mean- that the uterus gets ready every month so the body can make a baby and when there’s no baby, the blood has to come out. Reassure her that this kind of blood is healthy and normal and nothing to be afraid of, but give her a heads up that she’ll want to be prepared when the time comes so she knows what to do.
Offer to take her down the feminine hygiene aisle and show her around, or be prepared at home with products you might want to show her. U by Kotex makes snazzy little pads just for tweens with cool packaging and smaller than usual pads.
Tell her some stories from your childhood. Don’t make it too clinical. Let her know she won’t be alone. Chances are she’ll have lots of questions- or not. Let her run the show. If she glazes over, let the information you’ve given her sink in and give her a book to read and let her read it privately if that makes her more comfortable. Then set up a follow up date with her so you can talk more about it.
When our daughters do get their period, should we have them use a tampon or a pad?
Let her choose. Most girls feel more comfortable wearing a pad at first, since putting something inside the vagina can feel foreign and scary. Explain to her the pluses and minuses of both and let her pick. If she’s on the swim team, a ballet dancer, or a competitive gymnast, you might want to encourage her to at least try tampons, so she doesn’t feel like her period is something that keeps her from doing what she loves, which helps empower her to love her body.
Often, moms incorrectly pass on the message to their daughters that tampons make you lose your virginity. This simply isn’t true. While it’s true that wearing tampons may break a girl’s hymen, it’s often already broken from other activities (riding a bike, straddling a balance beam, falling as a child) by the time they start wearing tampons and has nothing to do with virginity.
The more you encourage open conversation, listen to her concerns, put judgment aside, and educate her, the more empowered she will be regarding her femininity, her body, and her life.
How heavy is the flow of a girl’s first period? Should we remind them to change their pads/tampons every X hour or would this cause them to die from embarrassment?
Usually, a girl’s first period is pretty light. In fact, she may get notice with a day or two of just light brown spotting, so if you warn her to let you know if this happens, you can help her avoid the humiliation of the embarrassing bright red stain on her white skirt that I endured as a 13 year old!
But every girl is different. She may not notice the lighter days and may wind up surprised with a heavy day of flow.
Should you bug her about changing her pad/ tampon? Talk to her! Ask her whether she’ll find that helpful or mortifying. If she doesn’t want help from you, encourage her to set a timer in her cell phone or watch the clock. This is a chance for her to step up the plate. Obviously, if she’s 8 when she starts her menses, she’ll need more guidance than if she’s 14. But biologically, she’s a woman. Don’t micromanage her too much or she might not come to you when she really needs you.
When a girl first starts getting her period, is it irregular? Should we show them how to track it on the calendar so they don’t get “surprised” when it comes?
Most of the time, periods are irregular for the first year, so tracking on the calendar won’t necessarily help. Once regular menses are established, yes! Absolutely! Teach her how to avoid surprises. But in the beginning, it’s often hard to predict when her menses will start.
Lastly, it seems as if girls are getting their periods at a much younger age than when I was growing up. Is there a reason for why this is?
We don’t know for sure, but we speculate that girls are getting their periods much younger because of a combination of xenoestrogens (chemicals in pesticides/ hormones in milk, etc that exert an estrogenic-like effect on the body) and childhood obesity epidemic. Fat cells actually make estrogen, so heavier children are theoretically more likely to menstruate young.
Anything that I’ve missed or that you would like to add?
Please, Moms! As an OB/GYN who just got back from a 20 city book tour where I spoke to women at universities, book stores, and women’s conferences all over the country about What’s Up Down There, I see the consequences of keeping these sensitive subjects in the closets. Dozens of women told me they weren’t prepared when their periods showed up, and they genuinely thought they were dying, which set them up to have unhealthy relationships with their bodies and their feminine selves. As I teach people at OwningPink.com, I think it’s vital to embrace and celebrate our feminine bodies as they change throughout our lives so we can heal, connect, and thrive. Having “the talk” with your daughter not only sets the precedent for an open, intimate relationship between you and your daughter; it also builds the foundation for her to develop a lifetimes of self-love and personal empowerment when it comes to her body and her life.
About Dr. Lissa Rankin, M.D: Dr. Rankin is a mother, life coach, public speaker, founder of the online wellness community OwningPink.com, practiced as an OB/GYN physician for ten years and is the author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend.
Dr. Rankin started OwningPink.com as a blog to document her personal journey, but it immediately caught fire with readers who related to her experiences and authentic voice. OwningPink.com has grown strongly and steadily in its first two years and now hosts more than 40 authors, coaches, and healers, spawning a community of more than 70,000 social media followers and more than 500,000 readers.
Dr. Rankin has appeared on and been featured in many media outlets, including Oprah and Friends Radio, WebMD, Health Magazine, First Magazine, Psychology Today, Body and Soul Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner, BettyConfidential.com, SheKnows.com, Shine.com and the Forbes list of top 20 inspirational women on Twitter.
In 2007, after Dr. Rankin gave birth to her daughter, her dog died, her healthy young brother ended up in liver failure from an antibiotic and her beloved father passed away from a brain tumor, all within two weeks, she embarked on a personal quest to figure out what she wanted to do wither life. She decided that she needed to make some major life changes, so she quit her job, moved her family to the country and began to live a more balanced, creative and authentic life. After spending two years writing a memoir about leaving the field of medicine, she began OwningPink to document her journey of healing.
Today, Dr. Rankin happily resides in Muir Beach, CA with her husband and daughter.
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