Preparing Your Daughter for Her First Period
Whether you’re the mother or father of a daughter, nothing sparks parental angst quite as much as the transition from girlhood to womanhood. While there are many emotional and physical mileposts in your child’s journey through puberty, one of the most stressful is often the onset of menstruation—when your daughter gets her first period.
Most women will remember starting their period and the surrounding events for the rest of their lives. Our job as parents is to make it as positive a milestone as possible. While the task may be daunting, there are some ways you can help your daughter prepare.
Educate Your Daughter on the Biological Basics Well Before Puberty Begins
Your daughter should have a basic understanding of her anatomy and how her body functions years before menses would be expected. (Most girls get their first period between the ages of 12 and 13.) As she grows and matures, the details and the context of these conversations may change, but it is critical that they happen.
Avoid generic terms such as “my vagina” or “down there” when discussing her anatomy, even when your daughter is a young girl and curious about the names for all the parts of her body. Be specific from an early age.
As a gynecologist, I cannot tell you the number of women who have no concept of female anatomy. How can women ever hope to understand their bodies, and thus live lives without confusion or fear, without knowing something as basic as what their body parts are called and how they function?
(If you need a refresher on the terminology, check out these diagrams for a helpful explanation of the female anatomy.)
Teaching young women about their bodies empowers them to make thoughtful healthcare decisions.
Tell Your Daughter What to Expect from Her Period
It is naïve to believe that not discussing menses will in some way make it not happen. It is important that we teach young women what to expect. Your daughter should know:
- What a period is and its purpose in human biology
- How much bleeding to expect
- How long her period should last
- Symptoms that typically accompany a menstrual period
A great age-appropriate resource to share with your teen on what to expect biologically is this FAQ from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Prepare Your Daughter for the Social Aspects of Menses
From a more pragmatic perspective, it is our job as parents to prepare our daughters for the social and practical aspects of menses, such as:
- Should she use a pad or a tampon?
- How should she choose the right pad or tampon for her needs?
- How do you place a pad or tampon?
- How do you bring a pad or tampon to the bathroom without anybody seeing?
- What happens when it is summer and you want to swim?
A great age-appropriate resource for tweens and teens on the more social and practical things to consider is The Care and Keeping of You 2. (For younger girls, the same publisher offers The Care and Keeping of You 1.)
Arrange a Gynecological Appointment for Your Daughter
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that the first gynecological visit occur between ages 13-15. This is an important opportunity to provide counseling and create a relationship between physician and patient that will foster trust and improve her healthcare. A routine pelvic exam is often not recommended until age 21, but may be recommended earlier if problems present.
Talking to our daughters early, often, and openly about what to expect will prepare them for the day they have their first menstrual period.