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Getting Your First Period: A Guide to all the Looks and Feels

Janelle King MPH, BSN, RN

Posted on January 29 2018

Periods. You’ve heard the whispers and the rumors from friends, seen depictions in movies and tv, and maybe even had “the talk” with your mom or dad. But until your first period arrives, you probably still have a lot of questions and may be feeling a little anxious.

Well, let’s talk about it.

What is a period?

Most girls get their first period between the ages of 10 and 16 years old and it usually shows up without warning. Your first period is a milestone event as it indicates your body’s ability to reproduce. Your ovaries release an egg each month, and at the same time, your body is going through hormonal changes which prepares your uterus for that future baby-bump. If the released egg isn’t fertilized, guess what happens? The lining of your uterus will shed and you’ll start to bleed.

What will my first period look like?

Your flow may start out as a light pink or a dark brown color on day one and then turn bright red as your period progresses. On the last day, it’s totally normal if your blood is a brownish color.

How often will I get my period?

A menstrual cycle is the time between the first day of one period until the first day of the next. On average there are 28 days in-between cycles but that’s not always the case. During the first year, your cycle may be irregular but you can expect it to show up every 21 to 45 days. It may take up to a year before you have consistent pattern.

How long my period last will and how much blood will I lose?

Your period can last for 3 to 5 days but it’s not unheard of for it to hang around for a whole week. During your first year of menstruation, your flow may only last for 2 days one month, but then last 7 days the next month… and that’s ok! On average women lose 2 to 3 tablespoons of fluid (blood) a day.

Do periods hurt?

Everyone’s experience is unique. Some girls may feel mild pain or discomfort in their lower abdomen or back, while others may have severe pain. Your pain can be dull, achy, sharp or stinging. On the other hand, you could be lucky enough not to have any discomfort! If you’re in pain there are a few ways you can relieve your aches:

  • Use a hot water bottle on your back or tummy
  • Take a warm bath
  • Exercise regularly
  • Use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or Motrin.

If you decide to use an over-the-counter treatment always read the label and take the medicine as directed. If it doesn’t help, you can always talk to your healthcare provider about other options.

How will I feel?

So here’s the thing: you may experience a range of emotions. Some girls are thrilled and will tell anyone who will listen about their period, while others are scared and nervous. In the end, any emotion you feel on that day is appropriate. Personally, I was elated and panic-stricken at the same time. I was at school, I didn’t have a pad, we didn’t have a school nurse, and there weren’t any dispensers in the bathroom so I made a trashy pad out of toilet paper to tie me over until the end of the day (yep). Even though I had listened attentively in health class, had “the talk” with my mom, and read several books about puberty, I still I was not ready and had so many unanswered questions. Where do I get a pad? How do I put a tampon in? Does this happen every month? I mean don’t get me wrong, I was proud, but it was still an overwhelming experience for a 13-year-old.

What should I use for period protection?

The feminine product you choose will come down to personal preference. Oftentimes, girls will start out with pads since they are pretty easy to use and they are available in different sizes, styles, and thickness. Tampons also come in different absorbencies to handle light flow and heavier days. Inserting a tampon can be a little awkward at first but they provide great coverage and they’re pretty discreet. Always remember to change your tampon every 4-8 hours to prevent toxic shock syndrome a serious but rare bacterial infection. Other, sustainable options include menstrual cups and period underwear. It may take some time and a little trial and error, but you’ll eventually find the product that’s right for you!

Will anyone know I’m on my period?

Nope! Not unless you tell them. You will still be able to participate in your favorite activities. Choose the feminine product that’s most comfortable for you and keep on conquering the world, like you do!

Going through puberty is hard enough and getting your first period can leave you with a scramble of emotions. You can always talk to an older friend or family member you trust to help you sort out your feelings and answer your questions. Remember they’ve been through this too! Take the time to celebrate this new phase of life!

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