Most girls start their periods when they're about 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it's important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they're prepared before the big day.
Many parents feel awkward talking about periods, especially with pre-teen girls, who can seem to get easily embarrassed.
One way round this is to respond to questions or opportunities as they arise. David Kesterton, who organises the FPA's Speakeasy courses – which teach parents how to talk to their children about puberty, sex and relationships – says clear speaking and down-to-earth, age-appropriate language is key.
Best age to talk about periods
"Parents often ask me when the right age to talk to girls about starting periods is, and I recommend that it should be an ongoing process rather than a formal sit-down talk.
"You can use TV ads for tampons, or buying sanitary towels at the supermarket, for example, to start the conversation with girls about periods. Or simply ask your daughter what she already knows and go from there.
"Whenever possible, use clear language, like 'vagina', even though you may feel uncomfortable using these words. Emphasise that periods are completely normal and natural – they're part of growing up and all women have them.
"And don't forget boys. They, too, need to learn about periods. Talk to them in the same way as girls about the practicalities, mood changes that can come with periods, and the biological reason behind periods, and it will keep them informed, as well as help them to understand what girls go through each month."
When a girl starts her periods it's a sign that her body is now able to have a baby. It's important that she also knows about getting pregnant and contraception .
The questions girls ask about periods
Here are some of the questions that you, as a parent, might get asked by girls about periods, with suggestions on how to answer them:
How will I know when my periods are soon going to start?
Signs that your period is on its way are if you've grown underarm and pubic hair. Typically, you'll start your periods about two years after your breasts start growing and about a year after getting a white vaginal discharge . The average girl will get her first period around 12 years old, but it varies from person to person.
Why haven't my periods started yet?
Your periods will start when your body is ready. That's usually between the ages of 10 and 16.
See a doctor if your periods haven't started by age 16 (or 14 if there are no other signs of puberty either).
Possible reasons include being underweight, doing lots of exercise (including dance, gymnastics and athletics) and a hormone imbalance.
Read more about 'why haven't I started my periods?'
How do I get ready for my first period?
Talk to your mum or another adult you trust about what you can expect before it actually happens.
It's a good idea to start carrying sanitary pads or tampons around with you in advance, so you aren't scrambling to find some when your period finally arrives.
If you find yourself at school without a pad or tampon, talk to a female teacher or the school nurse. They're used to being asked and they'll want to help you out.
How long will my first period last?
When your first period arrives it might not last very long, as it can take your body some months to get into a regular pattern. As a general rule, once they're settled, you'll have a period every 28 to 30 days and it will last three to seven days.
How much blood will I lose?
It might seem a lot, but it's only about three to five tablespoons. It's not a sudden gush – you'll just see a reddish-brown stain on your pants or on your sheets when you wake up in the morning.
What if period blood leaks through my clothes?
Part of becoming a woman is dealing with embarrassing mishaps. There are ways of covering up stains until you're able to change your clothes, such as tying a sweatshirt around your waist.
Keep a spare pair of pants and tights at school or in your bag, and avoid wearing light-coloured trousers and skirts during a period, just in case.
Should I use pads or tampons?
This is really up to you. Both tampons and towels or pads are safe and suitable for girls who have just started their periods. You'll probably want to use pads for your very first period, though, as tampons can take a bit more getting used to. It might be worth experimenting until you find the product that suits you best.
Can a tampon get lost inside me?
No, it can't. When you insert a tampon, it stays in your vagina. All tampons come with a string at one end that stays outside your body. You can remove the tampon at any time using this string.
Read the full answer here: Can a tampon get lost inside me?
What if I forget to remove my tampon?
If you forget to remove your tampon, it can turn sideways or become compressed at the top of your vagina. This can make it difficult or impossible for you to pull it out. If you think you've left a tampon in and you can't get it out, go to your doctor. They can remove it for you.
Read the full answer here: What if I forget to remove my tampon?
Further reading for girls
- "Periods is an FPA leaflet that uses cartoons and speech bubbles to explain periods and how to use tampons and towels. Helpful for older girls who are just about to or have just started their periods.
- "Susan’s Growing Up" is a picture book about periods that has been specially developed for people with learning disabilities. It’s from the Books Beyond Words series from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- The easyhealth website has four leaflets on periods that are ideal for explaining menstruation to a girl with learning difficulties. "Help! I've started my period", "What is that in my pants?" and "What about tampons?" are all free to read online or to print out.
- "The Period Book: Everything You Don’t Want to Ask (But Need to Know)" by Karen Gravelle, and published by Piatkus, is a well-known book for any girl approaching puberty. It explains what to expect and how to cope with periods.
Read more articles on the menstrual cycle.