Periods

During puberty, most girls start having periods. Periods are a natural thing and they happen to women and girls once a month. It can feel scary and we get lots of questions about periods. This page will help you to know what they are and how they might affect you.

What you need to know

Periods are a normal part of growing up for most girls and you’ll have your first period during puberty. During your period you’ll lose a small amount of blood from your vagina. It’s nothing to be scared of and it only will last for a few days. 

You’ll get your period about once a month and it’ll last between 3 and 8 days. You might have a stomach ache before or during your period so ask your parent or carer about a hot water bottle or your usual painkillers to help the pain.

You can use sanitary pads, tampons or menstrual cups to collect the blood. If you don’t have one of these right now you can put some tissue or toilet paper in your underwear until you can get one to use.

Sometimes periods aren’t regular, especially when they first start and it might be difficult to plan exactly when you’ll get your period.

Things to know about periods:

  • it's good to be prepared for your period in case it starts unexpectedly
  • it can feel confusing or embarrassing but there's nothing to be ashamed of
  • you can talk to a relative or another adult you trust about what's going on.

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tips to be ready for your period

Sometimes you can start your period when you're not expecting to, so it's always a good idea to plan ahead. You could try to:

  • keep sanitary products in a bag, drawer or locker
  • have a plan in case you do start your period - like a change of underwear and sanitary pads or tampons
  • if you're at school or on a trip tell the teachers so they know you might need to go to the toilet to change
  • ask an adult like your parent, carer or school nurse about things to help with any pain or discomfort, like a hot water bottles, microwave wheat bag or pain relief tablets
  • gentle exercise can help relieve pain and bloating - try yoga, stretching or walking
  • keep a diary, calendar or notes to keep track of what’s normal for you so you can notice any changes as periods can be irregular when they first start.

Period pain and mood changes

Throughout your period you have different levels of hormones in your body. It's natural to have some side effects from this.

Premenstrual tension (or PMT, Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS) is the name for the feeling you might get a few days before a period. Most women and girls get PMT and the symptoms can be mild or severe.

Common symptoms of PMT:

  • mood swings and getting easily annoyed
  • crying or feeling sad all of a sudden
  • not being able to concentrate
  • feeling really tired
  • your breasts feeling softer than normal
  • your stomach feeling really full or bloated
  • cramping in the stomach area
  • temporary weight gain
  • headaches.

Tips for period pain

Gentle exercise, using a hot water bottle, having a bath or taking some pain relief tablets can help. Always ask your parent, carer or school nurse about pain relief tablets before you take them.

If the pains get too much, you can talk to your doctor about other options or to see if there's another reason for the pain.

Tampons and other sanitary products

When you have your period you’ll need to use something called a sanitary product to soak up the blood. There are different products you can use and you can buy these from supermarkets, pharmacies and some local shops. You might feel embarrassed or confused about which products to buy so it’s okay to ask someone to come with you to buy them and you can ask an adult you trust or a friend for advice.

You can buy them at any age but they’re not free so you’ll need to ask a parent, carer or an adult at school like a school nurse if you don’t have your own money. If you or your family use a food bank you can ask for free sanitary products there.

Whatever sanitary protection you use it’s important to change it regularly throughout the day to keep clean and reduce the risk of leaking.

The most common products to use for periods:

5 tips to help you use tampons:

  • try to relax — if your muscles tense up it can be harder to insert
  • see which style of tampon works best for you
  • if you're struggling you may want to use a handheld mirror to help you see what you're doing
  • you should change your tampon every 3 to 6 hours
  • only use tampons when you're on your period. 

Why do periods happen

Periods are part of your menstrual cycle which is all about your fertility and your body preparing for the possibility to be able to become pregnant.

Each month one of your ovaries (you have 2) releases an egg. The egg travels down 1 of 2 tubes called fallopian tubes and into your womb.

The lining of your womb thickens for a short while during this time. If the egg is fertilised by sperm from a boy's body, it will stick in this lining and grow. This is how you get pregnant.

If the egg is not fertilised, then the lining of the womb breaks down and passes out of your body through your vagina as a small amount of blood — this is called a period.

Staying active during your period

It’s okay to exercise and play sports during your period. You can wear a sanitary pad or tampon as you would normally do.

Gentle exercise can help with mild pain and bloating but if you feel very uncomfortable or in pain, you could take pain relief tablets or have a break if you can.

If you want to swim while on your period, a tampon will absorb the blood and won't show through your swimwear. It's important to remember to change the tampon when you have finished swimming. Using a pad will not be as effective because it will absorb water.

Sex during periods

You can have sex at any time of the month as long as it's something that you and your partner both feel comfortable with. Some people prefer not to have sex during their period - it’s your decision what feels right for you.

If you do choose to have sex it’s important to use protection as there’s still a chance you can get pregnant and catch or pass on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sperm can live in the body for up to 7 days so it can be possible to get pregnant at any time of the month.

If you use tampons, it is important to remove a tampon before you have sex.

TALKING ABOUT YOUR PERIOD

Talking about periods can sometimes feel embarrassing. Remember that almost all women will have had periods and they might remember what it was like the first time.

You could try talking to your mum, aunt or another family member. Talking to friends can sometimes be helpful too.

If the only person you can talk to is a male relative it might seem hard. Some men will have an understanding of what a period is and how it affects women.

You don't have to explain everything, you could just talk about what you feel comfortable saying. Sometimes writing a letter, sending a text or message to someone you trust can make it easier to tell them.

Remember that you can always talk to us. Our counsellors are there to listen to you and support you.