WUKA is more than just a brand. We strive to bring you accurate and up to date information on women’s health and body positivity; we’re open to discussions on new health research, sustainable living and anything else that might affect people who bleed.
Our experts are valued members of the WUKA family, so we wanted to share a little more about them here on the blog. Meet Dr. Kiran Rahim, WUKA Period Health Expert. Dr. Rahim joined us recently for an Instagram live to chat all things puberty and periods, and how parents can support their child during this challenging time.
"Like many brown girls, my parents wanted me to become a Doctor even before I knew what I wanted to be. But unlike every brown girl, I spent a lot of my childhood in and out of hospital with surgeries and treatment for my Cleft Lip. Hospitals were home to me and somewhere where I thrived. I knew very early on that I wanted to make the kind of difference to someone's life that my own doctors had made to mine. As I went through medical school I realised I enjoyed paediatrics, working with children and their families and advocating for their health!
"I am a medical advisor for the popular ITV show Maternal and it was SO important to me that people understood what a mental load mothers carry! I have three kids and parenting is the hardest job I have. The juggling act as a working mother is unreal. Growing up I never saw someone like me on TV.
“Doctors were male and white and its part of the reason I have my SM platform, so little brown girls can look up think 'That could be me!' I am also an ambassador for Smile Train - a cleft based charity because its important for me to normalise that south asian beauty standards are unrealistic and we are ALL beautiful.
“I am a passionate advocate for child health, health promotion in BAEM communities and supporting women to pursue higher education and leadership roles. We need more representation of global majority communities.
“I was first introduced to WUKA when moaning about my periods on a cold December evening. Despite being a Doctor it has taken me 30yrs to understand and know my body and periods. Periods, virginity, marital intimacy are all such TABOO topics. Parents don’t teach their girls about hormones and periods and how to have healthy periods and I hope by working with WUKA I can normalise that journey. The best gift any parent can give their daughter is an understanding of her body and how to go with the flow (quite literally)!"
We put some of your questions to Dr. Rahim during our live. Read her tips on the best things that parents can do to support young people through puberty:
Educate yourself first
Before you have important conversations with your child, how much do you know about puberty? For lots of parents, the whole thing happened to them many years ago, and as we move into adulthood it’s only too easy to forget what it was like. So Dr. Rahim advises that the best thing you can do is to arm yourself with the facts about puberty.
A common misconception is that puberty is all about periods, and nothing else. In fact, Dr. Rahim pointed out that the first period is actually one of the last changes that happens for girls during puberty. It’s can be a challenging time, so re-learning exactly what is going to happen will arm you with the knowledge you need to support your child through it all.
Before the first period, there are lots of other physical changes that take place, and for girls those changes begin at around the age of 8, as hormones begin to enlarge the ovaries ready for periods. Breasts start to develop, pubic hair begins to grow and other physical changes such as acne and a change in body odour starts to occur too.
This all happens way before the first period, but isn’t often spoken about in as much detail.
Dr. Kiran also pointed out that alongside these physical changes, there are changes to sleep, immunity, emotions and mental health too.
Some girls will experience vaginal discharge before their period starts, and this is completely normal. Its important for parents to explain this to their child, so that any changes won’t be alarming, or something they feel the need to hide, or be ashamed of.
What happens during a period
Of course, the first period is a huge event for any girl, and a topic that we should all be discussing with our children, whether they’re male or female. As a parent, knowing what happens during a period is essential if you want to equip your child with accurate facts and take away the stigmas that still surround menstruation.
So as a quick re-cap:
- The menstrual cycle is split into stages.
- Day one of the cycle is the first day of your period, when bleeding occurs.
- The first stage is known as menstruation.
- The next stage is called the follicular phase, and this takes place at the same time as your period.
- During the follicular phase, follicles begin to grow on the ovaries, and the ovaries produce oestrogen, which stimulates the follicles to produce eggs.
- The next phase of the cycle is ovulation, where one fully developed egg is released and travels down the fallopian tubes for fertilisation.
- If no fertilisation occurs, the egg is reabsorbed into the body.
- After ovulation, the luteal phase begins: oestrogen levels start to drop and progesterone levels start to rise, as the lining of the uterus begins to break down.
- The broken down lining of the uterus is shed at the end of the luteal phase, along with the unfertilised egg. This is your period, and the start of a brand new cycle.
The menstrual cycle is a perfectly natural biological function that takes place every month- but just as every girl and woman is different and unique, so too is their cycle. So it’s important to teach children that although their cycle will follow the same pattern each month, the symptoms they experience and the length of their cycle will vary from person to person.
A question was posed to Dr. Rahim about PFAs and how worried we should be about exposing our children to them. The answer is quite simple: we need to educate ourselves about what products contain them and why, and how safe they might be for that intended purpose.
Whilst bearing in mind sensationalist reporting, its also worth remembering that the vagina is a very sensitive area, and potentially harmful chemicals should definitely be avoided. So do your research- learn about the ingredients that are used to make period products, and reach out to brands to ask questions about how safe they are to use.
WUKA products do not contain PFAs and we regularly test to make sure it stays that way.
Help your child understand their own body
One of the most empowering things a person can learn is about how their body works. So knowing about and understanding puberty, and what it means for your child is vital.
Cycle tracking is a powerful tool to help your child to learn not just about her period and when it’s due to arrive, but about all the other days of her cycle too. Knowing your flow is about more than just how long you bleed each month. It’s about knowing the signs that tell you it’s on the way, knowing how hormone fluctuations affect you around ovulation, what PMS symptoms are normal for you and what signs could indicate a problem that needs addressing.
However, for young girls and teens only just getting their period, it can take some time for cycles to regulate, so being aware of this is important too.
What a missed period could mean
A common question from young teens getting to know their cycle is regarding missed periods and what it could mean. To avoid the inevitable ‘am I pregnant?’ anxieties, make sure your child knows firstly how a pregnancy occurs, and secondly what other reasons can cause a skipped period.
Dr. Rahim told us that only 13% of us have a ‘typical’ 28 day cycle. In reality, our cycle lengths vary- so again, knowing your own unique cycle can help alleviate the fear that comes with a ‘skipped’ period. It’s also important to talk to your child about lifestyle factors that can affect timing and length of the menstrual cycle too- such as stress, weight loss or weight gain and the occasional anovulatory cycle (where you do not ovulate, so no period occurs- quite common for younger girls with irregular cycles).
Know when to call doctor
Dr. Rahim also spoke to us about the importance of knowing when to call the doctor. If your child underhands her body and knows her cycle, it’s a lot easier to be able to tell when something isn’t right and needs investigating.
But even in the early days as your child is still getting to know her cycle, being comfortable to call the doctor to discuss issues is still important. If symptoms are interrupting day to day activities, don’t be afraid to seek medical advice on what could be causing them.
Talk about periods and puberty
Having open and honest conversations about periods and puberty is essential- even if the symptoms you’re experiencing are embarrassing, or uncomfortable. Dr. Rahim’s advice is to normalise the symptoms, talk about them without shying away from the topic- whether it’s about period poop, stained underwear or other physical and emotional symptoms that your child is experiencing. If we normalise the entire experience, we’re better able to build confident young people who aren’t afraid or mystified about their own bodies.
So let’s talk about stains on bedsheets and in our underwear (whether from period blood or discharge) and how to get rid of them. Let’s talk about the importance of washing regularly, not using soap on our vaginas and of changing period protection regularly too. Talk about the changes that are taking place within the body and why these changes mean adapting personal hygiene routines accordingly. Make sure your child knows that it’s completely normal to leak bodily fluids and to smell a little different as they grow up- it happens to us all, and it’s all just part of this perfectly normal physiological process.
Make a First Period Kit
Dr. Rahim’s thoughts on creating a first period kit align perfectly with our own here at WUKA. Yes, it’s nice to have a grab-bag ready to go when your child gets her first period, but it’s about so much more than just having the practical essentials.
Creating a first period kit is a way for us as parents to let our children know we’re there for them, and we care. We’re supporting them through this transition, and we’re on hand to help in any way that we can.
Dr. Rahim’s top must-haves for her first period kit:
- A diary to help track the cycle.
- Hot water bottle to ease period cramps.
- Soft socks.
- Eye mask and other items to help promote better sleep.
- Period pants- of course!
- Magnesium rich foods- chocolate is a great one.
- Things to help them relax- colouring books, fiddle toys, a teddy- whatever you know will help your child to feel comforted and supported emotionally.
Watch our IG Live here to listen to the entire conversation.
What stage of puberty do periods start?
Puberty is split into five stages, and periods usually occur during stage 4, anywhere from the age of 10 to 15. Before this, your child will undergo other changes as hormones begin to first enlarge the ovaries in preparation for periods. They will also start to develop breast and grow pubic hair before their periods start.
How long after puberty do periods become regular?
It can take up to two years for the menstrual cycle to regulate at first, and for some it can be even longer. If your child tracks their cycle, they will start to see patterns, and will begin to understand more about the different physical and emotional symptoms they experience. If you’re concerned about irregular periods, speak to your doctor.
What are the symptoms before the first period?
As your child’s body prepares for the first period, they may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Sore or tenders breasts
- Mood swings
Encourage your child to talk to you about the symptoms they’re experiencing, reassure them that they’re totally normal, and explore the ways that they can be eased. A hot water bottle or warm bath can help, and paracetamol can be taken too.