Puberty often begins at around 11 years old, although anywhere between about 8 and 14 is considered within the typical range.
One of the hallmarks of puberty is getting a first period or beginning menstruation. Although this isn’t the first thing that happens during puberty, it’s generally one of the most memorable events. On average, a first period occurs when you’re about 12 years old, but many factors can impact exactly when a first period will happen.
In the United States, a child may get their first period when they’re about 12. However, anytime between 10 and 15 is within the average range. It’s not entirely unusual for a first period to happen as young as 8 or as old as 16.
Factors such as family history, race, diet, environment, and weight can all determine the time a first period occurs. Children who participate in intense athletics or are underweight might get their periods later.
It can be hard to predict when a first period will occur, but there are a few ways you might be able to estimate. As a rule, a first period will occur about 2 years after breasts start to develop. Additionally, a mucus-like vaginal discharge will often start 6 months to a year before the first period.
Your body begins to produce adult levels of hormones during puberty. A period happens when your brain sends a signal to your ovaries to release hormones called estrogen and progesterone.
Every month, starting around the first period, estrogen and progesterone hormones prepare your body for a possible pregnancy. This causes the lining of your uterus to build up. This buildup is to prepare for a fertilized egg to attach and begin development.
After about a month of buildup without an egg attaching, the buildup will break down and bleed. This blood is what is seen during a period. This cycle repeats every month and is called a menstrual cycle.
It’s common for a cycle not to be regular after a first period. Periods may be hard to predict — occurring every 3 weeks, every 2 months apart. This often lasts for the first 1 or 2 years after a first period.
There are apps that can help track periods. Using an app to track in the first couple of years can help spot if anything is very irregular. You can use information from the app to start a conversation with a doctor.
It’s difficult to predict when your first period will happen, so it’s a great idea to be prepared. You can take steps now to make sure you’re ready when your first period occurs. Some steps to take include:
- talking with a trusted adult and asking any questions you have
- carrying sanitary pads, tampons, or any other menstrual product you choose in your backpack, gym bag, or purse
- keeping an extra pair of pants, tights, or leggings in your locker, desk, or backpack
- looking for places in your school where you can get a sanitary pad or tampon if you need one, such as the nurse’s office, guidance office, or school bathroom
Many parents feel uncomfortable talking with their child about puberty and their first period. Parents might have grown up feeling ashamed by periods and might not want to embarrass their child by having that conversation now.
However, a first period is part of overall health and development, and having an honest conversation about it is an important way to help your child as they grow up.
Some tips to help your child through a first period include:
- answering any questions your child has about periods honestly and directly
- using times like when you are buying menstrual products, discussing family pregnancies, or other natural moments to start the conversation with your child
- asking your child what questions they have about getting periods
- asking your child if they have any questions about menstrual products or thoughts about what type they’d like to use
- explaining some of the pros and cons of types of menstrual products
- emphasizing that periods are typical and natural
- using clear, concrete words for body parts and body functions
It can help to have the conversation slowly over the course of several years rather than all at once. For instance, you can first mention that some people bleed every month to prepare for pregnancy during a conversation about where babies come from when your child is very young. Over the next several years you can answer additional questions and provide more information.
Most girls will get their first period sometime between the ages of 10 and 15. However, a first period can occur as young as 8, so it’s a good idea to be prepared. The age of a first period can be impacted by genetics, diet, environment, weight, and other factors.
You can help your child prepare for a first period by having an open and direct conversation about periods and what to expect. It’s also a good idea for your child to begin keeping menstrual supplies and an extra pair of pants in their bag or at school.
Being ready and educated about the first period is a great way for your child to approach this growing-up milestone.