What happens when I get my period?

The menstrual cycle consists of the changes that happen every month when your uterus prepares for a possible pregnancy. The lining of the uterus thickens into a cushion of blood vessels, glands and liquid. If you become pregnant, this lining will be what nourishes a fertilised egg (an egg which has been joined by a sperm). If the egg is not fertilised, then the lining (mostly blood and some fluid) passes out through the vagina. This bleeding is called a period, or menstruation.

How long does my period last?

A period generally lasts about 5 days. The first day of bleeding in each cycle is called Day 1. Sometimes you may bleed for as little as 2 days, or sometimes for as many as 8. This range is totally normal. The body’s process of preparing the uterus lining for a pregnancy and then disposing of the lining takes around a month. Periods generally come every 28 days, but this can vary. During the first 2 or 3 years, your period may be very irregular.

You might have 2 in a row and then go several months without having a period at all. You will also find that your blood flow varies (it might be heavy, or light) on different days of your period. This is completely normal and the pattern will differ for everyone.

How old will I be when I first get my period?

There is no way of knowing when your first period will come. It will probably arrive sometime between the ages of 9 and 15 years. But it may be earlier or later. Every person is different. If you have not begun to menstruate by the time you are 17, talk to your doctor about it. People usually stop having their periods between the ages of 45 and 55. This is called menopause.

Will I get period pain?

People will often experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms before and during their period. This is often referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Mood swings are a common symptom of PMS. Some people might feel a bit emotional before their period, and others might feel irritated or short-tempered. Not every person experiences these symptoms and they soon disappear after the period starts.

Just before a period begins, you might feel an uncomfortable ache in the stomach or pelvic area. This can last for the first 12 hours. Some people say they feel more bloated and heavy at this time. Some people experience slight diarrhoea just before a period. Constipation is common too. If this happens to you, drink more water, eat extra fruit and vegetables as well as wholemeal bread and cereals. Try to exercise regularly. You should not have to use laxatives.

Some people experience cramping and stomach pain during their periods. If you do have pain during your period, try some stretches and exercise, or curl up with a heated wheat bag or a hot-water bottle on the painful area. If this doesn’t work, it is possible to take pain relief. Talk to a parent, doctor or the chemist about what kind of relief will be appropriate for you.

Vaginal discharge

During the days of your menstrual cycle when you are not bleeding, the cervix produces secretions or discharge. This is a small amount of fluid which keeps the walls of the vagina clean and slowly leaks to the outside. This fluid usually dries to a creamy yellow colour on your underwear. You might notice differences in these secretions at different times of your cycle. Sexual excitement also produces vaginal secretions. This is normal and healthy.

Do I need to keep my vagina clean?

Vaginal fluids help the vagina to be self-cleaning, so you don’t need to wash inside the vagina and you don’t need to use perfumed sprays.

When should I worry about a vaginal discharge?

Continuous, heavy vaginal discharge, can be a sign of infection. For example, a thick, white and cheesy discharge with a yeasty smell is a symptom of thrush. When you have thrush, the first thing you notice is vaginal itching. Thrush is a very common condition and it can be treated easily.

Consult a doctor if:

  • your period hasn't started by 17 years of age
  • bleeding occurs between periods
  • your periods are very heavy or blood clots are passed
  • your periods lasts longer than 8 days
  • you notice sores or itchiness in the genital area
  • your vagina has a persistently unpleasant odour despite personal cleanliness.

Watch this video to learn more about the different stages of the menstrual cycle.

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