I never talked to my mother about periods. I learned from books and in health class that I would get a period, and there were some brick-sized pads in the bathroom cupboard along with, honest-to-God, a sanitary belt intended to hold a non-self-adhesive pad in between my legs. I was woefully unprepared, to say the least, for the whole period experience. Girls today have so many new options for period management and information thanks to the Internet, but embarrassment and confusion about periods persists. After talking to your daughter, be sure you talk to any men or boys in her life too, like a brother or a dad about periods.
With all this great stuff out there, are you ready to have the period talk with your daughter? Here are 7 things you should do:
- Talk to her before her periods even start: Getting started may be the hardest part because most women were raised to think of periods as a secret or embarrassing. Ditch the shame! Before she even gets her period, try to destigmatize periods as you teach her what to expect. Talk about your own period and show her your period products openly. Over time, you can answer natural questions like how much blood will there be? What color should it be? How long does a period last? Try to hit all the basics, including what to do if her period starts at school or when she is not at home.
- Explore new period products together: they are so much better than the ones on the market when you were a teenager. Goodbye diaper-like pads! Menstrual cups can hold a day’s worth of blood, eliminating the need to schlep pads and tampons everywhere. Cute period underwear that literally absorbs blood can be worn on light flow days, and period swimwear can let her swim on her period if she’s not ready to use tampons. If she is ready, you can buy tampons with a reusable applicator to cut down on landfill waste. These are gamechangers. Talk to her about how each of the period products work to see which one(s) she likes and learn how to use them together. Be sure she knows how often to change her period products to minimize discomfort and odor.
- Sports and periods can get along: Speaking of games, make sure you have a selection of period products that will allow her to keep up with all the activities and interests she enjoys, including all sports - even swimming. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys by age 14, eliminating an important avenue for girls to build confidence, learn about teamwork, and stay strong physically and mentally1.
- Period trackers: Teach her how to track her period and help her recognize signs in her body and mood that her period is on the way. There are lots of free period tracking apps out there that can minimize the possibility of getting caught unprepared. If that happens, introduce her to “the wad” – we’ve all done it – creating a makeshift pad by rolling several layers of toilet paper around her hand and sticking it in her panties. Which brings me to…
- To-go period kit: Give her a period kit she can take on the go, with a pantiliner and 1-2 period products she likes to use, plus a stain-removing wipe/pen, and maybe even a backup pair of panties in a cute, zippered pouch.
- Don’t flush ‘em down the toilet: Make sure she knows how to properly dispose of used period products. Never flush them down the toilet – toilet clogs can be legit embarrassing. Instead, teach her to wrap used products in a thin layer of toilet paper and toss them in the trash.
- Period cramps and symptoms: Let her know that many girls experience uncomfortable symptoms leading up to and even throughout their periods, including headaches, cramps, breakouts, and yes, even period poops. While this is normal to a certain extent, this discomfort should not be unmanageable. You can show her how and when to use over-the-counter products like ibuprofen for headaches and cramps, and face wash plus spot treatments to prevent and treat breakouts. If her symptoms are still uncomfortable, you can talk to her pediatrician or make an appointment for her to see a gynecologist (visits at this age do not include an internal exam). After girls stop growing it is increasingly common and safe for girls to use hormonal birth control to stop their periods until they choose to become pregnant.