A lot of parents these days rely in small or in large part on schools to supply their children with information about the changes that happen to the body during puberty, and about sex.
But it’s a very good idea to supplement the education that children may get in class — and even to begin having those discussions, in age-appropriate ways, long before they’re brought up in the classroom.
For starters, it’s likely that as your child
As they’re about to reach puberty, both girls and boys should have been told about the changes that will transpire in their bodies.
And these days, the education needs to start earlier. In the case of girls, whereas a century ago, American girls began menstruating at 14 or 15, girls in the United States nowadays usually start menstruating at age 12 or 13; some begin much earlier (and some later).
Three years before menarche, her first period, your daughter will start developing breasts. If you haven’t already had discussions, this is a good time to begin ongoing talks about the changes that are about to take place, and what they will mean.
You can get as involved in the anatomy and biology of these changes as you wish (i.e., discussing the female sex hormones that drive them, estrogen and progesterone, as well as the function of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the release of one monthly egg into the uterus, etc.). For this, you may want to find a good book with illustrations, or a video, which you and your daughter can read or watch together. It is advisable that you view the materials with her, so as to address any comments or questions that come up.
If you prefer to keep things simpler, here is some information that you will want to convey to your daughter, long before that first period arrives:
- She will begin developing breasts three years before her first period
- If she is developing faster, or more slowly than her friends, it is important to let her know that different people mature at different ages; reassure her that her development is normal
- Closer to menstruation, she will start getting a white vaginal discharge; explain to her that this is the vagina’s way of staying clean, and it is perfectly normal
- The beginning of menstruation means that she’ll be able to get pregnant if she has sexual intercourse. Even if she hasn’t yet gotten her first period, there is a small chance that an egg could be released from the ovaries just before she gets her period, and be fertilized if sperm are present. Meaning that she could potentially get pregnant, even if she hasn’t yet ever menstruated
- A typical monthly cycle is 28 days long (though a small percentage of females have longer or shorter cycles)
- During her first years menstruating, a girl’s periods may be irregular, and she might even menstruate only 3-4 times a year
- Periods normally last 3-5 days, and they can be light, moderate or heavy, depending on the person
- Though sanitary napkins may be advisable for a young girl whose pelvis isn’t yet fully developed, there is no reason why she cannot use tampons, especially if she wants to swim
- If she does opt to use tampons, discuss the dangers of toxic shock syndrome with her (TSS), which can be largely prevented by changing tampons regularly (every few hours), and using the smallest-absorbency tampon possible (e.g., regular slim, as opposed to super-absorbent)
- Cramps: they often accompany the beginning of a period; they are normal and are the result of the uterine muscles contracting.
The following help to prevent or relieve menstrual cramps:
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Eating foods rich in iron and B vitamins before, during and after a period
- Regular exercise and stretching
- Getting plenty of sleep
- If necessary, your daughter may use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Aleve or Motrin (if cramps are consistently severe enough to interfere with your daughter’s daily activities, talk to your doctor)
If you feel a little uncomfortable bringing up the subject of menstruation with your daughter at first, use questions that she may ask through the years as launching points for discussions, or reflect back on your own adolescent experiences, starting a conversation for instance, with: “I remember how anxious I was about getting my first period when I was your age…” which will likely invite comments and questions from your daughter.
By Lisa Pecos