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Menstruation is a result of puberty. This is when your body becomes capable of reproduction.

When your menstrual cycle begins, your estrogen levels increase. That causes the lining of your uterus to thicken.

The uterine lining thickens so it can support a fertilized egg and develop into a pregnancy.

If there isn’t a fertilized egg, your body will break the lining down and push it out of your uterus. This results in bleeding — your menstrual period.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a period for years or you’re waiting for your first one — periods can be difficult to navigate.

This article will go over everything you need to know, from how to find the right menstrual products and dealing with cramps to saving stained clothes.

Most people start their periods between the ages of 12 and 13. However, it’s normal to start your period a little earlier or later, too.

As a general rule of thumb, menstruation will start about two years after your breasts begin to develop.

Some people start their periods without any warning. Others may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in the days leading up to their period.

Symptoms of PMS include:

You may find it helpful to carry a “period kit” in your bag so you’re not caught completely off guard when your period begins.

This may include a:

  • clean pair of underwear
  • pad or tampon
  • wipe
  • pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)

If you’ve started your period and don’t have something to use for the blood, try not to worry. You can fashion a temporary pad out of toilet paper to hold things over until you’re able to get a proper pad or tampon.

Here’s how:

  1. Take a long section (at least 10 squares) of toilet paper and fold the layers over each other.
  2. Place this where a pad would go — along the panel of fabric between your legs (called the gusset) that’s in the middle section of your underwear.
  3. Take another length of toilet paper and wrap it around the “pad” and your underwear a few times. This will help hold the tissue in place.
  4. Tuck the end of the tissue into the top of the finished wrap. You now have a makeshift pad.

If you’re at school, you may consider asking your teacher or nurse for a pad or tampon. They’ve been asked before — trust us.

Your first period may only last a couple of days.

It may take a couple of months for your period to settle into a regular schedule and consistency.

Once it does, your period may last anywhere from two to seven days each month.

Although a person’s first few periods are often light — bringing a few spots of red-brown blood throughout the week — you may have a heavier flow.

Your monthly period will follow a more consistent pattern once your hormones stabilize.

According to Planned Parenthood, the average person loses up to 6 tablespoons of blood during menstruation. That may seem like a lot of blood, but it’s usually about 1/3 of a cup at most.

Heavier bleeding isn’t necessarily cause for concern. But if you feel like you’re losing too much blood, tell your guardian or talk to the school nurse.

You should also tell a trusted adult if you:

  • have to change your pad, tampon, or menstrual cup every one to two hours
  • feel lightheaded
  • feel dizzy
  • feel like your heart is racing
  • have bleeding that lasts more than seven days

Your guardian or other adult may need to take you to see a doctor to talk about your symptoms.

The doctor can help determine whether you’re losing too much blood. They may be able to give you medication to help relieve your symptoms.

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You have several different options you can use to stop the bleeding.

You may need to try a few different types before you find what works best for you.

You may also find that your needs change over time. What you use to manage your first couple of periods may be different from what you use after you become more comfortable with menstruation.

Period underwear

Period underwear is a relatively new invention. It’s like regular underwear, except it’s created with a special fabric that absorbs menstrual tissue and traps it within the fabric.

You can usually use one or two pairs throughout your entire period. Just make sure you wash them according to the manufacturer’s directions after each wear.

Different types have different levels of absorbency. If you have a lighter period, you may be able to rely on only these.

If you have a heavier period, you may enjoy using period underwear as a backup to prevent accidental leakage.

There are a ton of different brands out there, but they all work in a similar way. Knixteen and THINX, for example, have pairs specifically for tweens and teens.

Pads and panty liners

Sanitary pads are rectangular pieces of absorbent material that you stick inside your underwear.

All pads have a sticky strip on the bottom. That’s what attaches the pad to your underwear.

Some have extra material on the sides, known as “wings,” that you fold over the edges of your underwear. This helps keep the pad in place.

Pads typically need to be changed every four to eight hours, but there isn’t a set rule. Simply change it if the material feels sticky or wet.

They come in different sizes. Each size is made to accommodate a different level of bleeding.

Generally speaking, the smaller the pad, the less blood it can hold.

You’ll probably use a more absorbent pad at the beginning of your period then switch to something lighter once the bleeding slows down.

You may also find it helpful to wear a heavier pad overnight so you don’t have to worry about leakage.

Even the largest pads are still quite thin, so you shouldn’t be able to see it through your clothes. If you’re worried that people might be able to tell, stick to looser-fit bottoms.

Panty liners are smaller, thinner versions of a sanitary pad.

You may find it helpful to use them a couple of days before your period is supposed to start to prevent accidentally bleeding on your underwear.

You may also want to use panty liners toward the end of your period, as the bleeding may be spotty and unpredictable.

Tampons

Tampons are absorbent, tubelike menstrual products. They’re inserted into the vagina so they can absorb menstrual fluid before it reaches your underwear.

Some tampons are sold with plastic or cardboard applicator tubes. These tubes are designed to help you slide the tampon into your vagina. All tampons have a string on one end to pull it out.

As with pads, tampons come in different sizes and overall absorbencies.

You may fluctuate between sizes throughout the week:

  • Slim or junior tampons are typically smaller. They work best for lighter flows.
  • Regular tampons are considered average in size and absorbency.
  • Super or super-plus tampons are the largest in size. They work best for heavier flows.

Although some manufacturers sell scented tampons, avoid these. Fragrance can cause irritation inside the vagina.

When it’s time to insert, gently push the tampon inside your vaginal canal until only the string remains outside of the body.

If your tampon has an applicator, grasp the tube and gently pull it out. The tampon should remain inside your vagina.

When it’s time to remove the tampon, pull on the string until the tampon is free.

Tampons must be changed every eight hours at most. Leaving a tampon in for more than eight hours can increase your risk for irritation or infection as a result of the bacteria present.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are another option. Similar to tampons, cups are inserted into the vagina where they collect blood before it exits the body.

Cups typically come in two size options — small or large — that are based on overall age and experience with childbirth.

You’ll likely find the smaller model more comfortable and easier to insert.

The insertion process is similar to that of a tampon. Although your product should come with step-by-step directions, you can also check out our guide to insertion and removal.

Unlike pads or tampons, most cups are reusable. This means that when it’s time to change the cup, you simply take it out, clean it, and reinsert.

Cups must be changed every 12 hours at most. Leaving a cup in for more than 12 hours can increase your risk for irritation or infection as a result of the bacteria present.

Depending on the brand, reusable cups can last anywhere from 6 months to 10 years with proper care.

Not necessarily! Before we get into the nitty-gritty, know that leaks happen to everyone.

When you first start your period, you’re learning about how much you bleed, how much your menstrual product can hold, and when your flow is heaviest.

If you can, keep a couple of stain wipes in your bag. They can help get the worst of the stain out and hold things over until you’re able to clean the fabric properly.

You can also tie a jacket or sweatshirt around your waist to help cover the stain until you’re able to change.

When you get home, try this method to get blood stains off:

  1. Soak the stained fabric in cold water as soon as possible. Warm or hot water will cause the stain to set into the fabric, so make sure the water is cold.
  2. If you have stain remover handy, now’s the time to spray it on. Make sure the affected area is completely soaked. Allow it to sit for as long as the product’s label recommends.
  3. If you don’t have a stain remover — or you want to double up on your technique — rub bar soap or dab liquid soap into the affected area. You should get a small lather, where little bubbles appear on your pants.
  4. Rinse and repeat the soap scrub until the stain lifts.
  5. If the stain doesn’t remove all the way, you can wash the clothing in the washing machine. Just make sure you use cold water instead of warm or hot.
  6. Allow the clothing to air-dry. The heat from the dryer can make the stain set permanently.

Nope! You don’t look or smell any differently. The only time someone might be able to smell the blood is if you leave your pad or period underwear on for longer than recommended.

Remember, scented panty liners and other menstrual products can irritate your vulva. You should avoid using these.

If you’re concerned about odor, gently cleanse your vaginal area with warm water.

You definitely can swim and participate in other physical activities during your period. In fact, exercise may help reduce cramping and discomfort.

If you plan on swimming, use a tampon or menstrual cup to prevent leakage while you’re in the water.

You can use a pad or period underwear, if you prefer, for most other activities.

Although cramps serve a purpose — they help your body release the uterine lining — they can be uncomfortable.

You may be able to find relief by:

  • taking over-the-counter medicines, like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), according to label specifications
  • applying a cloth-covered heating pad, heating wrap, or other heat pack to your stomach or lower back
  • soaking in a hot bath

If your cramps are so severe that you feel nauseous, are unable to get out of bed, or are otherwise unable to participate in everyday activities, talk to a trusted adult.

They can take you to see a doctor to discuss your symptoms. In some cases, severe cramping may be a symptom of another underlying condition, such as endometriosis.

In addition to cramping, you may experience:

You may not experience these symptoms every time you have your period. They can come and go depending on your body’s hormonal fluctuations.

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Your period is a part of your menstrual cycle. This means that, with time, your period will usually be on a predictable pattern.

The average menstrual cycle is about 28 days. Some people have one that lasts 21 to 45 days. That’s completely normal, too.

It may take up to six years after your first period for menstruation to occur at a regular interval. That’s because your body has to learn how to release and regulate your reproductive hormones.

Although it may take a couple of years for your period to settle into a predictable rhythm, you may still find it helpful to track your symptoms.

This will allow you to look for patterns and be somewhat prepared when your period does come.

You can also use this information to talk to your school nurse or other healthcare provider about severe cramps or other concerns.

To do this, mark the day your period started and the day it ended on your phone or paper calendar.

If you don’t want others to know what you’re tracking, you can use symbols or code words to help you identify when you’ve stopped and started.

As a general rule, your next period will probably start three to four weeks after the last one ended.

You can also download an app for your phone. Some examples include:

Fitbits also have a period tracking option.

You won’t have a period for the rest of your life, but you’ll probably have it for quite some time.

Most people will have a menstrual period until they go through menopause. Menopause occurs when the hormones that increased to trigger your first period begin to decrease.

Menopause typically begins between ages 45 to 55.

Stress and other underlying conditions can also cause your period to stop.

If you begin experiencing any unusual symptoms alongside a missed period, talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider.

If you want to stop having a period, you may consider talking to your healthcare provider about hormonal birth control.

Certain forms allow you to skip your period whenever you like — or stop it entirely.

The short answer? Yes. Pregnancy is possible anytime semen comes into contact with the vagina.

Although the onset of menstruation is widely regarded as the start of your reproductive years, it’s possible to become pregnant before you’ve had a period.

It all comes down to your hormones. In some cases, your body may begin to release ovulation-causing hormones long before it triggers the start of menstruation.

And when you do begin menstruation, it’s possible to get pregnant if you have sex during your period. It ultimately comes down to where you are in your menstrual cycle.

Using a condom or other form of birth control is the best way to prevent pregnancy.

Talk to a trusted adult or reach out to your healthcare provider if:

  • You haven’t started your period by age 15.
  • You’ve had your period for about two years and it isn’t regular.
  • You experience bleeding between your periods.
  • You experience severe pain that prevents you from completing daily activities.
  • Your bleeding is so heavy that you have to change your pad or tampon every one to two hours.
  • Your periods last longer than seven days.

If you call to make an appointment, tell the person who’s scheduling it that you’re having problems with your period.

They may ask you to write down details about:

  • when your most recent period started
  • when your most recent period ended
  • when you first noticed your irregular bleeding or other symptoms

As a parent or guardian, it can be tough to know how to guide a young person through their first period.

If you haven’t already, you may find it helpful to:

  • Reassure them that getting a period is a normal part of life.
  • Stick to the facts. You don’t want your individual history — good or bad — with menstruation to shape their outlook.
  • Explain different menstrual product options and how they’re used.
  • Help them create a period kit that includes a pair of underwear, stain wipes, and menstrual products they can easily store in a backpack or locker.

You can also share any life lessons you’ve learned throughout the years. For example:

  • Which pain relievers work best for cramping?
  • Do you have any go-to remedies to ease bloating?
  • Can you use baking soda or other staple ingredients on stains?