Periods – advice for young people
What is a period?
A person with a uterus and ovaries is born with thousands of tiny eggs (ova) inside the ovaries.
During puberty the ovaries start to release an egg every month (ovulation). Each egg (ovum) travels down the fallopian tubes to the uterus.
The lining of the uterus gets thick with blood and fluid to prepare for a possible pregnancy.
If the egg is not fertilised by a sperm, this bloody lining breaks down and leaves the body through the vagina. This bleeding is called ‘a period’ or ‘menstruation’ and usually lasts for 3-7 days. Usually up to about 4 tablespoons (or 80mLs) of blood is lost, but sometimes it feels like more!
Menstrual blood (period blood) can look different to the blood from a cut or a bleeding nose. It’s often different colours and textures. There’s nothing to worry about, but if you are worried you can talk to an adult you trust.
When a person first gets their period, it may not happen regularly. Usually, periods will get more regular over time and the person will have their period about once a month. The time between one period and the next is called the menstrual cycle.
Some people get their period when they are young, other people won’t get their first period until they are in high school, or sometimes even college! This is all very normal, and you shouldn’t be worried if your body is changing at a different rate to your friends.
The menstrual cycle continues each month until the body runs out of eggs, usually between the ages of 45 – 55 years of age, but sometimes earlier or later. This is called menopause.
What does getting a period feel like?
- Everybody is different! You might feel a bit sick or sore in your lower abdomen (tummy), or lower back, get a bit cranky or tired before your period starts, or feel fine!
- Period pain is caused by the uterus cramping as it squeezes out the lining.
- To help period pain you can exercise, eat healthy food, place a hot water bottle or heat pack on the sore area, or have a warm bath.
- If these don’t work, talk to an adult you trust about taking some medicine to help.
- If it hurts so much that it gets in the way of you doing things you like, talk to an adult about seeing the doctor.
What should I do when I get my period?
When you get your period, you will need to do something to contain the blood and help you feel comfortable.
There is no reason why you can’t keep doing everything you normally would do if you didn’t have your period, but you may need to choose different types of products to help you manage your period during certain activities.
There are lots of options, and not everyone chooses the same products. Your options include:
- Disposable (throw away) pads
- Reusable pads
- Period pants (reusable)
- Menstrual Cups
You can find out more about each of these things below.
- The period product you choose is up to you.
- Wrap used disposable pads or tampons in toilet paper or a paper bag and put it in one of the bins you see in public toilets or school toilets (called sanitary bins), or a rubbish bin. DON’T flush them down the toilet!
- Reusable pads, period pants and menstrual cups need to be washed every time you use them to keep you healthy and clean.
- Carry your preferred product in your bag just in case you get your period when you don’t expect it. If you are worried someone will see them, put them in a cute pencil case or makeup bag.
- If you do get your period and don’t have any products with you, you can use tissues or toilet paper on the inside of your underpants. Schools usually have spare pads available, so you can talk to your teacher or the school nurse if you need something.
- Shower every day when you have your period—it’ll help keep you feeling healthy and clean.
- No one will know you have your period unless you tell them. Periods are private but it is OK to talk about them with someone you trust.
If you have any questions about periods, you can ask an adult you trust, or one of our friendly doctors or nurses at Family Planning Tasmania.
What should I use when I have my period?
Pads come in different sizes, and have sticky strips on the back of them to keep them in place inside your underwear, where the opening of your vagina is.
They range from panty-liners for when you have very little blood, usually right at the beginning or end of your period, right up to very large overnight style pads which give you a lot of coverage for when you are rolling around in bed at night.
Generally, sizing works in this order, with the first size absorbing the smallest amount of blood, up to the last size absorbing heavy amounts of blood:
- Panty liner
You will see that some come with ‘wings’. Wings are just little flaps at the side of the pads which you can fold over your underwear to help to keep the pad from bunching up or moving around. Whether you use pads with wings or without is totally up to you.
Reusable Pads are similar to disposable pads, but they are made of cloth and you wash them instead of throwing them away.
Instead of sticky strips to hold them in place, they often have wings with buttons or press-studs.
Period pants look just like regular underwear but have extra fabric built into them so you don’t need to wear a pad, tampon or cup with them.
Even though they are designed to be used on their own, some people use them as ‘back ups’ in case their other option leaks or on days when they have lots of blood.
You wear them like regular underwear, and you can get them in cool patterns and colours too.
Tampons are usually made of cotton or another absorbent material and are in the shape of a bullet or a tube with rounded ends.
You put them inside your vagina using clean fingers. Sometimes tampons come with a cardboard tube to help you push the tampon inside you – this is called an applicator.
Tampons can’t get lost inside your body. If a tampon is in correctly, you can’t feel it.
It has a string hanging from one end (you put it in with the string on the bottom end) to help you take them out – you just grab the string and gently pull.
Like pads, tampons come in a range of sizes, usually:
Menstrual cups are squishy silicone or rubber cups designed to use inside the vagina during a period.
A cup collects period blood rather than sucking it up like tampons or pads do.
You put them inside your vagina by folding them up using clean fingers, putting them inside your vagina, and then letting it go when the cup gets to the top of your vagina, near your cervix. It will unfold itself and go back into the cup shape so it can collect the blood.
Cups can’t get lost inside your body.
If a cup is in correctly, you can’t feel it. Just like tampons, it might take a bit of practice until you get it right.
You take a cup out by putting your finger inside your vagina and feeling for the top of the cup. Then you push the side of the top of the cup until you feel it release from the side of your vagina. You can then pinch the cup and pull it out, being careful not to spill the blood.
You can also use cups overnight.
There is a periods brochure at the bottom of this page which has even more helpful information in it if you need to know more!
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?
Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS for short, is a very rare illness. People who use tampons or menstrual cups are more likely to get it than people who don’t.
If you have been using a tampon or a cup recently and:
- are feeling very hot or very cold,
- are vomiting,
- have diarrhoea (runny poos),
- are dizzy,
- have sore muscles,
- are confused or fall over, or
- have a rash,
then you should:
- remove the tampon or cup,
- tell an adult you trust, and
- go to the doctor right away.
To reduce the risk of getting TSS, you should keep yourself clean during your period by showering or having a bath at least every day.
You should make sure you don’t leave tampons or cups in longer than you are supposed to and you shouldn’t use tampons overnight.
You may find these downloads helpful:
Periods for young people
Puberty for young people
Youth Health and Relationships Guide
This content is provided for general information and education purposes only and does not take into account individual circumstances. It is not to be relied on in substitution for specific advice from a medical professional and Family Planning Tasmania does not accept responsibility for such use. Family Planning Tasmania has taken every effort to ensure that the information is up to date and accurate, however information and knowledge is subject to change. Family Planning Tasmania advises that you always consult a medical professional for individual advice.
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