Advice From Our Experts

Discussing Menstruation with Your Daughter: What's a Period?

In my last post, "Talking to Your Daughter About Puberty," I presented tips for parents about how to broach the subject of puberty with their daughters. These included helpful hints for how to explain what puberty is, discussing breast development and talk about shaving with your daughter. This follow-up post is intended to help parents field the following questions about menstruation.

What is menstruation?

Menstruation is when the body becomes physically capable of becoming pregnant. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg. This is called ovulation. Hormonal changes prepare the lining of the uterus to accept the egg for pregnancy. When ovulation takes place and the egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds and drains through the vagina. This is called a menstruation or a period.

When will I start my period?

Pre-Teen Girl

No one can predict exactly when a young woman will start her first period. However, referring to how old a girl's mother was when she had her first period may be helpful. Some physical changes that may indicate menstruation will soon begin is when your daughter weighs about 100 pounds, has pubic hair and experiences full breast development. When a young girl starts her period, a small amount of brownish drainage will be visible on her underwear and/or toilet paper. The amount of blood lost over a 3 - 5 day period is about ¼ cup, which can vary by individual. Also, the timing of a period tends to be different for each woman, but it generally occurs every 28 – 35 days.

Tools for tracking your cycle


It's common for a girl’s period to be irregular for the first year or two. Everyone has their own cycle, so it is a good idea to keep a calendar. Start it with the first day of the period.

  • has a cycle calendar available to be downloaded and printed.
  • For iPod or iPhone users, there are several apps that can help track and anticipate menstrual cycles. Two popular ones are iPeriod (free) and Period Tracker($1.99 / download at the time of this writing). These apps are able to be password protected, which can prevent embarrassment if a friend or sibling gets a hold of your daughter's phone or iPod.

How do I prepare for getting my period?

Explain what and how to use sanitary pads or tampons. Most girls are more comfortable starting with pads, but you can use tampons right away as well. Your daughter may need to try various products until she finds one that works best for her. You need to make sure the tampon is inserted correctly to be comfortable.

  • Discuss how and when to change the pad and or tampons as well as proper disposal.
  • Buy supplies and have them in the bathroom and advise her to keep additional products in a little carrying case in her backpack or purse.

Does it hurt to get your period?

Some girls may experience some cramping in the lower abdomen. The cramping can range in severity from an achy to a sharp pain. Exercise is recommended to increase the blood flow to the uterus. A heating pad or over-the-counter pain medication may help with any discomfort.

What happens if I start my period at school?

A situation like this one is why the "on-the-go" supply of products in a small carrying case is so helpful. By taking either a pad/tampon out of the carrying case and placing it in her pocket, a girl is then prepared to ask her teacher for a restroom break to discreetly deal with the situation. Another option is to request to go to the front office to see a school nurse or representative, both of whom also keep such supplies on hand.

What if blood leaks onto my pants?

A simple solution to help a girl get through her school day can be to tie a sweatshirt around her waist to cover the area. It's also a good idea to plan for such a possibility by wearing dark-colored clothes during this time. Factoring in regular bathroom breaks into your daily schedule to make sure you're changing your pad/tampon frequently enough can help prevent such mishaps.

Can you see my pad/tampon?

It's not possible to tell if someone is wearing a sanitary pad or tampon through the person's clothing, so there's no need to feel self-conscious!

Recommended reading

American Girl ® book "The Care & Keeping of You - The Body Book for Girls."

This is obviously a lot of information for a young girl to grasp. While there are many great resources available for parents and their daughters, one in particular I would recommend is produced by American Girl®, "The Care & Keeping of You - The Body Book for Girls."This is an especially helpful supplement to your daughter's health education if she enjoys reading.

Open communication

Above all, it's important to remember to have open communication with your daughter. Over time, parents can set these conversations in motion so that when a girl is maturing into puberty, she is already more than comfortable sharing her feelings. Make sure your daughter understands her body will change when it is ready and that she should not compare herself to her friends. Every girl has her own unique time clock and her body's timing is just one more characteristic that makes her the one-of-a-kind individual that she is!