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Periods - having a period

ovaries; uterus; sperm; vagina; menstrual cycle; period; menstruation; monthly; period; periods; pads; tampons; sanitary napkins; anorexia; stress; toxic; shock; fallopian; tube; vagina; ovulation; pubic hair. ;


What is menstruation (periods)?

The word menstruation (say men-strew-ay-shun) comes from a Latin word 'mensis' which means month. Periods usually come about once a month.

female reproductive organs

Girls are born with two ovaries which both contain thousands of eggs.

  • About once a month, afer a girl starts having periods (menstruation), one egg leaves the ovary (ovulation - say ov-u-lay-shun) and travels down the fallopian (say fal-oh-pee-an) tube towards the uterus (womb).
  • While the egg is developing and travelling the uterus starts preparing for it by building up its lining with extra blood and tissue (a bit like making a 'nest').
  • If the egg is fertilised by a male sperm, then your body will use that 'nest' to protect and nourish the egg as it grows into a baby.
  • If the egg is not fertilised then it will keep going, passing out through the vagina . Since the extra blood and tissue are not needed, they detach (come off) from the surface of the uterus and pass out throught the vagina. This is what is called a 'period'.  A period usually lasts around 4 -7days. The egg is so tiny that it can only be seen if you use a microscope. The period comes about 14 days after ovulation.
  • About two weeks later another egg leaves the ovary and the whole 'cycle' starts again.
  • This menstrual cycle may take 28 days, but it can be longer or shorter.
  • When you start your periods they may not be very regular at first. (They may not happen every month or you may have a light then a heavy period.)
  • Everyone is different but over time you will get to know what your cycle is like.

Menarche (men-ar-key) is the medical name for the time when a female has her first period.

What can affect your periods?

  • In the first year or so, the hormones which control the cycle may not go up and down in a regular pattern, so a period may be 'late', but still be quite normal. But if you start having periods and then they stop coming, have a talk with your mum or another woman, and if the two of you are concerned, see your doctor.
  • Girls who do not have very much body fat may not have regular periods or may not start periods until much later than others. Some athletes and dancers may have very little fat (and lots of muscles). Without some body fat you don't ovulate and without ovulation you can't have a baby.
  • girlWomen and girls who lose a lot of weight, or suffer from anorexia (an-or-ex-ee-a), may not menstruate (and they may also become very ill).
  • Being worried or stressed about something in your life can sometimes cause periods to be late.
  • Women or girls who smoke may have more painful periods because nicotine affects the flow of blood to the muscles in the uterus so they get cramps.
  • But one reason why periods don't come is that the woman is pregnant (is having a baby) - but she can only get pregnant if she has had unprotected sex with a male!

If you know you can't be pregnant and your periods stop coming - go and see a doctor. (If you could be pregnant it is also important to see a doctor!)

Pads or tampons?

  • Pads are made of absorbent material to soak up the blood so that you don't have an embarrassing leak.
  • Pads nowadays come in all sizes and thicknesses so that there will be one which is most comfortable for you. 
  • Pads have a sticky strip, which will stick to your pants and stop them from sliding around.
  • Some of them have 'wings' which stick to the side of your pants for extra protection.
  • Remember to change pads 2 or 3 times a day and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Pads should never be put down the toilet as they could block the pipes.
  • Look for a sanitary disposal unit in school and public toilets or wrap the pad in toilet paper or a paper bag and put it into the bin.
  • pubertyAsk mum what she does with pads at home. 
  • You can ask mum, an older sister, auntie or female teacher if you are worried about what kind of pads to use or about wearing tampons. All women menstruate so they will be able to help you.
  • If you have just started your periods and you are not regular yet, you may want to carry a pad with you in your back-pack. Some girls wear a panty liner when they know it is nearly time. You don't have to wear panty liners or pads when you are not having a period.

Tampons are made of thick cotton that has been squashed so that it is small enough to fit inside the vagina.

  • They are useful to wear when playing sport or swimming.
  • They are small to carry about in your bag, and because they are inside your body they are less likely to have an odour (smell) even on hot days. (But, when you are wearing a pad, even on hot days, there is very little smell coming from the pad. Do you notice any smell when other girls are having a period? Usually you can't tell by smell that they are having a period.) 
  • They have a string on the end so that you can get them out easily. You can't 'lose' a tampon inside you - it can't move out of the vagina into your uterus or abdomen.
  • Read the directions on the packet and you shouldn't have any problems, but many young women find tampons tricky to put in when they first try using them.

girl Change tampons a couple of times during the day and it is a good idea to wear pads instead overnight because wearing a tampon for a long time can dry out the lining of your vagina and make you feel sore.

Anyone can use tampons once they get the hang of how to put them in, but it may be a good idea to start off with pads until you get to understand your periods, like how heavy or light they are, how long they last and what they feel like.

Dr Kate says

Dr Kate"Having a period is absolutely normal and at least half the world's population (the female half) is having periods, or has had them, or will have them!"

There is a lot more about periods in our topic 'Periods - facts and questions' if you want to know more.


Starting your periods
Sounds a bit scary
May not be long now.
I'm getting more hairy.
All my friends started
A long time ago.
What's wrong with me?
Why am I so slow?
Uh, Oh, it's happened.
I'm one of the crowd
Growing into a woman
Menstruating and proud.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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