Seven tips to help you prepare your daughter for her first period

April 11, 2012

Family's open discussion on puberty

When a young girl has her first period, it marks a major milestone in her life. And how she feels about it depends a lot on how well prepared she is. Talking to your daughter about puberty and menstruation is very important. It's essential in helping her transition from a little girl to a young woman. But if it makes you a little anxious, you're definitely not alone. Here are seven expert tips that can help you talk with her comfortably and honestly.

  1. Talk early and often.

    The time to begin preparing your daughter is well before the big day approaches.

    Don't think you need to have one big "talk" that answers all her questions. That could be overwhelming – for both of you. Try to spread it out into lots of smaller conversations.

    KidsHealth.org is devoted to children's health and development and is a resource of Nemours children's health system. The experts there say education about how the body works should be continuous. Kids reaching puberty should already know what's going to happen to their bodies.

    Even toddlers begin asking questions about their bodies, and parents should answer them honestly. The details you share should depend on your child's age and ability to understand. Karen Zager, Ph.D., is a co-author of The Inside Story on Teen Girls: Experts Answer Parents' Questions.

    On WebMD.com, she urges parents to answer questions with simple, factual information that is age appropriate. For example, what should you do if your first-grader finds your box of tampons? "Don't feel the need to elaborate or go into extensive explanations because you're nervous," writes Dr. Zager. You can simply say, "Mommy uses these every month when she gets her period."

    You don't have to go into a two-hour discussion of the menstrual cycle at that time. The important thing is to build open communications. Talking with kids when they're young gives them the information when they ask for it. It also lets them know their parents are available and comfortable with these discussions. As your daughter gets older, you can get into more specifics.

    Iris Prager, Ph.D., is president of the American Association for Health Education. She is also an educational expert at Procter & Gamble for Tampax. In "Mothers & Daughters: How to Talk the 'Talk'," an article on Kaboose.com, she offers advice.

    You don't want to wait until puberty to start talking about menstruation, she said. Talking with your daughter early is a great opportunity to promote a positive body image. It can help strengthen the mother-daughter bond. Also, schools start teaching about puberty in fourth or fifth grade.

    "If you want your message, perspective, and values to come across first," writes Dr. Prager, "you need to have ongoing, open communication before fourth grade."

  2. Know the signs.

    In the United States, the average age for a girl to get her first period is 12. But that doesn't mean all girls start at the same age. A girl can start her period anytime between the ages of 8 and 15. This is another reason the conversations need to start earlier than you may think.

    The first period is actually the end of puberty. There are many early physical signs that will let you know puberty is starting. Breast development is usually the first sign that a girl has entered puberty. As explained at KidsHealth.org, this is usually followed by the growth of some pubic hair. About a year after breast development begins, most girls enter into a phase of rapid growth. They'll get taller and curvier. Their feet will grow. About a year after the growth spurt begins and about two years after breast development starts, the first period comes.

    The body changes that go along with puberty will probably spur questions from your daughter. These are good starting points for conversations about menstruation.

  3. Be patient and try to keep smiling.

    Puberty brings many emotional changes along with the physical ones. One of the changes is for daughters to start shutting out their mothers. That can make it harder to notice the physical changes. And it may be hard for mothers to handle the new mother-daughter relationship.

    As Dr. Prager explains, "She has always been your best buddy. Suddenly, everything you say starts a fight. Be aware of where it's coming from and don't take it personally."

    Among her top tips for open communication with your daughter are these: Be a good listener. Share your own personal experiences. And above all, keep your sense of humor.

  4. Learn how to start conversations.

    If your daughter is not asking questions as she approaches her preteen years, it's up to you to start talking about menstruation. KidsHealth.org offers these suggestions:

    • Look for good books, videos, or DVDs. They can help foster a more comfortable and educational conversation.
    • Speak to your family doctor about ways to talk about menstruation and puberty.
    • Have facts and information readily available for your child to look at or read.
    • If there's a question you don't know the answer to, let your child know you will find it.
    • Coordinate conversations with the health lessons and sex education your child gets in school. Ask your child's teacher about his or her plans and for any advice.
    • To break the ice, try asking your child some questions that will ease you both into discussions. You can bring it up while walking down the feminine hygiene aisle at the grocery. Magazine and TV ads for pads or tampons can also open the door to discussion.
    • If you hear your child mention something related to a period, ask where she got the information. Questions can be a great way to set the record straight and clear up misconceptions.
    • Before you take your preteen daughter for a routine checkup, let her know her doctor may ask if she's gotten her period. You can then ask if she has any questions or concerns about her first period.

    Once you get the conversation started, share your own experiences. Invite questions. Be relaxed and open.

    The experts at MayoClinic.com remind you that your daughter needs facts from you. If her friends are her only source, she might hear inaccurate information and think it's true.

    Talking to her can help get rid of unfounded fears or anxiety. It can also influence the way she feels about her body. And conversations you have now can lay a good foundation for future talks about dating and sexuality.

  5. Take a quick refresher course.

    Brush up on the facts about menstruation before you talk with your daughter. It can make you feel more confident. And, it can help you explain things simply and clearly. There are many good books and online articles that can help. And diagrams can help you teach your daughter about her reproductive organs.

    MayoClinic.com provides this simple description of menstruation: "Menstruation means a girl's body is physically capable of becoming pregnant. Every month or so, one of the ovaries releases an egg. This is called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn't fertilized, the egg passes through the uterus and out of the body. The lining of the uterus is then shed through the vagina. This is a period."

    Don't be surprised if your daughter is less interested in the biology than other aspects of menstruation. Be ready to answer questions like these: Will people be able to tell I'm having my period? Will it hurt? How do I use pads and tampons?

  6. Let her know everyone is different.

    Your daughter's body is changing at a different pace than some of her friends' bodies. It's very important to let her know it's normal for everyone to be different. This is true for changes during puberty as well as for her periods.

    Your daughter's first period will likely be mild, according to MayoClinic.com. She may have just a few drops of blood or spotting. Her future periods might vary month to month, lasting for two days or up to a week. The amount of blood lost each month can be different, too. It's usually from four to 12 teaspoons.

    It's also common for girls to have irregular periods for the first year or two. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. This is the time from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period. Cycles in young teens can range from 21 to 45 days. But they're usually longer for the first few years. Teach your daughter how to track her periods on a calendar. In time, she might be able to predict when her periods will start.

  7. Talk about it in a positive light.

    Some girls find getting their periods very exciting. Others feel uncomfortable about it. And it can definitely take a little getting used to. But many women come to see their periods as something very positive. It's a sign that their bodies are working the way they're supposed to. Reassure your daughter that it's normal to feel apprehensive about menstruating. But it's nothing to be worried about.

    KidsHealth.org recommends that mothers explain that monthly periods are a natural part of being a woman. Having them is a sign of good health. And without them, women couldn't become mothers.

    Most important, let her know you're always there to answer her questions.

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