If your daughter has started their period, or you think they're close to starting their period, then this is the blog post for you.
In our recent Instagram Live with Cath Hakanson, founder of Sex Ed Rescue, we discussed how to naturally talk to your kids about their first period, all while respecting personal values. As a parent and sex educator with over 25 years of experience, Cath shares top tips on:
- How to have ‘the first period talk’
- Signs of a first period coming
- The colour of a first period
- Heavy flows for teens
- Teen period tracking apps
As Cath rightly says, ‘it’s a conversation we have to have’.
Do a lot of parents struggle with talking about first periods?
Many parents do because they don’t know how to explain it. When you think about periods, that’s when our parents first had ‘the talk’ with us, so some parents see puberty and periods as being the time when they then have to go and have that awkward conversation themselves. Also, they might not have talked to their kids about sex. We also want to explain periods in a way that doesn’t scare our kids.
Cath shared one of her favourite books about puberty and periods, which she read to her own daughter at the age of 4:
How do you know if your child is going through puberty and may be starting their period?
There are usually 3 things that happen before a period starts. They start to grow breasts, so there will be some sort of breast growth happening. The other thing they get is hair, either in the armpit or pubic hair. The third thing, which is tricky, is vaginal discharge. That bit is tricky because the vagina keeps itself clean, so you have this white, creamy discharge that comes out, which you will see in the crotch of your underwear.
They will get this discharge, and a different discharge, which is the uterus starting to get ready for ovulation. It will be more of a slippery or clear discharge. This can sometimes happen for a month or 2, or it can happen for up to a year. It can be tricky for girls to spot the discharge. If it changes suddenly, then this might mean that a period is on its way. If you’ve got breasts, hair and discharge, you might get a period sometime in the next 3 to 6 to 12 months, so there’s a huge gap of time.
Prepare with period pants
Cath loves period pants for first periods: ‘For a 12 year old, they are sitting there worrying about when their period is going to start and going to school to find a pool of blood on their chair or running down their leg. They envision this worst case scenario, and that’s why I love period pants so much and the impact that they have on a girl’s self-esteem and her anxiety. What I say to parents is, don’t wait for periods to start.’
What are first periods like?
First periods are different. Some kids may get a little bit of blood, and some will get heavy bleeding. A common question from parents and kids is ‘what colour should the blood be?’ A lot of kids are expecting bright red blood, but for most they can have brown blood or black blood. The uterus will shed its lining while it is still learning how to work, so kids may get a bit of old blood coming through, so often it can be just a little bit of blood.
Another thing is that kids expect their periods to be regular, every month after their first period, but this doesn’t happen.
Your body tells you stuff; it’s about tuning in and being aware, so we can make sure that they know what is normal and what is healthy for their body.
What would be the ideal first period kit for teens?
When starting to design period underwear, Ruby Raut, CEO and co-founder of WUKA, envisaged what a teen would need in school. So, she asked Cath what the ideal first period kit for teens would look like:
‘Firstly, a spare pair of underwear. I would also say some wipes, because they could be funny about blood and if there’s blood on their inner thigh, they might want to wipe it off. It's key to tell them that the wipes aren’t for their vulva because of allergies and fragrances. And, then, a bag to put their used underwear in. It’s so different now with period pants, and so many parents are using them now, which is fantastic.’
Top tip! Teens can wear period pants early before their first period arrives, and have what they need in their school bag, just in case. Check out the WUKA First Period Kits, a curated collection of period pants and other goodies.
What are common questions from teens about periods?
A query often searched by teens online is ‘can I get pregnant on my period?’, a common fear that they have. Most kids, when they first start getting their period, are not actually ovulating, and that is why their periods are irregular. The uterus is training itself to build up a lining and to get rid of it, and the hormones are whirring away in the background – but, often, they’re not ovulating, which means they can’t get pregnant.
In addressing such questions, Cath suggests a direct approach: ‘When you’re first having these conversations, keep it black and white. Don’t say “well, you might be able to, but you might not” because it’s just too overwhelming. What I find is that a lot of teenagers and tweens will go to Google for information and the answers they get are catered for people who are sexually active.’
Are heavy periods common for teens?
From Cath’s 25 years of experience, we asked whether heavy periods are common in teens:
‘Heavy periods can sometimes mean that there is a problem. This can be indicative by having to change your period product every few hours. It’s recommended that your teens see a healthcare provider for a check-up, in case of endometriosis and PCOS. So many girls are told that their painful periods or heavy periods are normal but then, as adults, they’ve ended up having investigations and it wasn’t. I think we do have to listen to our daughters or our kids with uteruses when they do say they are getting heavy periods, and also find out what they mean by "heavy" as well.'
How do you talk to teens about PMS?
It’s difficult to know whether any mood changes in teens are related to periods or if it’s just a case of the brain still developing while going through puberty. Cath suggests that it's key to let them know that part of puberty and periods is that we have hormones and hormones can affect us. ‘It’s important to not paint it as if it’s something horrible. You might start the day off feeling really good but a couple of hours later you might feel cheery or angry.’
Top tip! Cath recommends leading sex and relationships educator Justin Hancock’s BISH training as an additional resource.
How do period tracking apps for teens differ to apps for adults?
Typically, information in ‘adult’ period tracking apps is tailored to people who are sexually active. The fact is girls can have a period as young as 8 years old. Also, a lot of period tracking apps have a chat function, the conversation, often sexualised, is not always helpful for teens and they collect cycle data.
Cath has been helping to develop an age-appropriate app for non-sexually active people and for young people aged 8-12 where they can send questions about puberty and periods and get tailored information. Watch this space!
TOP THREE TIPS FOR PARENTS:
About Cath Hakanson:
Cath Hakanson is a mother, sex educator and founder of Sex Ed Rescue. Bringing her 20+ years clinical knowledge, a practical down-to-earth approach and passion for helping families, Cath inspires parents to talk to their kids about sex so that kids can talk to their parents about anything. Sex Ed Rescue arms parents with the tools, advice & tips to make sex education a normal part of everyday life.
Follow Cath on Instagram here.