Big Convos

Got A Tween Or Teen In The House? How To Prepare For Their First Period

The guide you need for navigating this milestone, complete with expert advice.

Originally Published: 
Photo of mother and daughter choosing sanitary pad
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You probably remember when you got your first period, as it was likely a pretty life-changing experience (for better or worse — cramps and period blood stains, we’re looking at you). But somehow, all of your knowledge about first periods has flown out the door now that it’s time for your tween or teen’s first period, right? We get it — it’s a totally different experience when you’re helping someone else navigate the strange, emotional, messy, and ultimately beautiful world of menstruation.

First, let’s define menstruation, AKA a period. When the menstrual cycle begins each month, estrogen levels increase, causing the lining of the uterus to thicken so it can support a fertilized egg and develop into a pregnancy. If a fertilized egg doesn’t show up, the uterus lining will shed and get pushed out of the uterus in the form of blood. The menstrual blood that comes out of the vagina is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus. Menstruation is a sign that a person is nearing the end of puberty and their body is capable of reproduction. “Capable” does not imply emotional, mental, or financial readiness to take on pregnancy, of course, so that conversation is essential as well.

We’re here to walk you through menstruation and everything that goes along with it. You can read this alone, with your tween or teen, or just text them the link so they can read it on their own. Whatever works. Just know this — periods are normal and not something to be afraid or ashamed of. The more you and your tween or teen understand the changes happening in their body, the easier it’ll be for them to talk about it.

They’re your baby (your big baby, now), so it makes sense that you’d want to be able to help navigate this first period.

What’s a first period called?

That’s right — first periods have their own special designation. Ready? Menarche! Say it with us: men-ar-kee. The term comes from the Greek word menos, meaning “month,” and arkhē, meaning “beginning.”

What are the symptoms of a first period?

Some tweens or teens may not notice symptoms before they get their period, while others may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) for a few days leading up to their period. Do PMS symptoms suck? Yes, yes they do. But the good news is they’re temporary. PMS symptoms can include abdominal bloating, breast soreness, acne, back pain, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, feeling extra emotional or irritable, food cravings, or clear or white vaginal discharge. You know, all the fun stuff.

When do tweens/teens get their first period?

The age of your first period differs, but most people get it between 12 and 13. Dr. Leigh R. Meltzer, OB-GYN with Indiana University Health Physicians in Carmel, IN, tells Scary Mommy that the age range can widely vary, with tweens or teens typically getting their period “about two to two and a half years after the first signs of puberty.” As for what those pubescent indicators are, Meltzer says about 85 percent of females notice breast growth or changes while 15 percent see the onset of pubic hair. A period is considered “abnormally early if you see signs before the age of eight and abnormally late after age 16.”

Why did my child get their period so early?

Each child is different, and everyone’s bodies develop at their own unique pace. So, there isn’t a specific time a young person should get their period. But there are several factors that can trigger a period, including weight and how active a child is. These things can set off certain hormones that may cause a young person to start their period. Some kids get theirs between 11 and 14 years old, while others start at nine. Others may experience precocious puberty and get their periods even earlier.

How long does a first period last?

Of course, this differs for everyone, but a first period may only last a couple of days. In fact, the first few periods may be very light with only some spotting of reddish-brown blood. It might take a while for hormones to stabilize and for a period to get on a consistent schedule. Once it does, the average period can last anywhere from four to seven days — or longer. “Many of the first several periods that a [tween or teen] has are not ovulatory, so it is not unusual to see bleeding that seems to go on for weeks,” Meltzer says.

How long after pubic hair grows is the first period?

Remember, everyone’s body is different and has a completely separate timeline from everyone else. That being said, the timing between growing pubic hair and your first period is usually pretty close together. Pubic hair arrives shortly after the breasts begin to develop. The first period may pop up a year or two after that stage.

What is a normal period for a teenager?

The average menstrual cycle is about 28 days, but it’s also normal to get your period every 21 to 45 days. Most periods stick around fewer than seven days. Still, Meltzer adds, “Almost everything to do with a teen’s first few years of menstruation can be considered ‘normal.’ Some teens have very heavy periods, some have very light ones, and some only have one or two periods a year initially. None of that is unusual.”

Getting your period can suck. A lot. Periods can be uncomfortable and painful with lots of cramping and discomfort — that’s all totally normal. But if your tween or teen can’t get out of bed because of debilitating cramping (and not just because they’d rather lay around and watch Netflix all day, which we are here for, too), it could be a sign of a more serious health problem. Check in with a doctor to find out what’s going on.

Is it normal for a tween or teen to have a light period?

An extremely light period (or one that’s barely there at all) after several menstrual cycles could be normal for your kid, as every single body is unique. However, it could also be a sign of a health problem. Athletes who consistently train hard or underweight people might have a period that completely stops, which could cause problems down the road. If your tween or teen has excessive acne or facial hair, it could signal a common hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Bottom line: If your child alerts you to the fact that their periods have recently changed to become very light or have diminished altogether, it’s a good idea to schedule an OB-GYN visit.

How can I help my teenager through their first period?

When a child gets their first period, it’s the mark of a very important milestone in their life. However, it can also be painful. To ease your child through their period pains, here are several things you can do to help:

  • Place a heating pad on their back or stomach. A warm towel is also just as good.
  • Give them a lower-back massage.
  • Over-the-counter pain medicine can keep the pain away for a few hours. Stick to basic naproxen and acetaminophen brands.
  • Run them a hot bath. This will help their muscles relax.

Can a person get pregnant once they start menstruating?

If your tween or teen asks this question — or even if they don’t — let them know the answer is a resounding yes. You can absolutely get pregnant once you get your period. What might be more surprising is that you can get pregnant before your first period. Pregnancy occurs during ovulation, which can happen before menstruation begins, although rare. So, if a person has sex before getting their first period but when their body is ovulating, pregnancy can occur. The only way to completely avoid pregnancy (and STDs) is abstinence. Otherwise, the most efficient birth control methods are condoms and a hormonal form of birth control, like a pill or IUD.

If you are a teen reading this and think you might be pregnant, talk to a parent, trusted adult, or your doctor. A heads up — you should use caution and do some research before talking to a pregnancy crisis center, as it’s possible those offices may not offer accurate, non-judgmental counseling. Just know that you have options, and there are kind people who can help.

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