Menstruation is something that happens to people with a uterus and starts when they go through puberty. Menstruation is also known as your ‘period’, ‘monthlies’, or ‘that time of the month’. Menstruation is part of the menstrual cycle which usually takes around 28 days, and is how your body prepares for a possible pregnancy.
Menstruation can mean different things across your life. When you are young, this might symbolise becoming a woman, and when you get older this might symbolise fertility. Throughout your menstrual cycle, if no pregnancy occurs, you will get your period. Getting your period means you will bleed from your vagina for between 3 and 7 days. The colour, consistency, and heaviness of your bleeding will change throughout your period – this is completely normal. It also is normal for your period to change as you age, or if your body goes through drastic changes. It is a good idea to know what is normal for you (because everyone is different) and seek medical advice if you experience any extreme or unusual changes to your period.
The menstrual cycle starts again after you have finished your period, and will keep happening throughout your life until you reach menopause. Some people have shorter cycles and some have longer, up to 40 days. It is normal for your period to be irregular when you first start. If your period is still irregular after a few years, it is recommended to see a doctor.
Just before and throughout your period, you might experience:
- Pain and cramping in the lower tummy and back,
- Mood swings,
- Or headaches.
You can use a heat pack or painkillers to help, or even some mild exercise. If your symptoms stop you from going to school or being able to do things you normally do, talk to an older sibling, friend, parent, or see a doctor.
There are a number of period products that you can use when you have your period, and it is your choice based on what you think is comfortable. Some options that you don’t insert into your vagina include pads, reusable pads and period undies. Some period products that you do insert into your vagina include tampons, menstrual cups and menstrual discs. It is important to not flush any period product you use because this can block your toilet and cause damage to pluming and sewerage systems. To find out a period product that you prefer, you can try different options. Sometimes your preference will change when you get older. Below is an image with some pros and cons of period product options.
Blood – Know Your Flow
It is very normal for the colour, flow and consistency of your period blood to change during your period, and even from period to period. At the very beginning of your period, it might be bright red or brown and a light flow. Often your flow will then get heavier, and the blood will get darker. You might also pass some blood clots out of your vagina during heavier flows. This is also normal as your uterus sheds its lining. Sometimes you won’t notice clots, particularly if you are using a tampon. As you period goes on, the flow should get lighter again. Towards the end of your period, the blood might also be a brownish colour or even black. This is a sign that it is older blood that has taken longer to be shed from your uterus. This is also normal. If your blood is orange or grey or smells funny, this is not considered normal, and it should be checked by a medical professional. Below is an image with the different types of blood and what they can mean.
Iron is an important mineral that is involved in a number of bodily functions, including transporting oxygen in your blood which is essential for providing energy for daily life. You can get iron from a range of foods (some nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables), and good sources include red meat and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Iron is lost from the body through sweat, shedding intestinal cells, and blood loss. Because people who get their period lose blood each month, they are at a higher risk of iron deficiency, which can lead to iron deficiency anaemia (particularly if you don’t eat animal products). It is important to eat foods that are rich in iron, or take supplements to make sure you are getting your recommended intake. You can also get regular blood tests to monitor your levels of iron. If you have any concerns or would like to find out more about your iron levels, see your doctor.
When you get your period for the first time, it is a good idea to talk to women or people you trust like your parents or the people who look after you most of the time, older siblings, friends or teachers. Remember that this is something that many women experience in their life, and these people can help you manage the changes you are going through or even help you buy period products. If you can’t or don’t feel like talking about your period with someone, here are some more resources to help you: