Menstruation is the discharge of blood and tissues from the inner lining of the uterus out through the vagina. This discharge lasts for 4-7 days with the amount of discharge increasing, at first, and then decreasing. A periodic or monthly cycle of this form of discharge is called a menstrual cycle.
For majority of women, this cycle is every 28 days but it is also common for periods to occur earlier or later giving a bracket from day 25 to day 35.
The menstrual cycle is of this sort: Day 1 of the period is bleeding and day 14 is the day ovulation starts and if the egg is not fertilized, by day 25, the egg dissolves and gets discharged in the form of blood and tissue on day 28.
A girl gets her first period, called menarche, around the ages of 9-15 but on an average, at age 12. Till the age of 18, a girl tends to have irregular periods because her body is still working on setting up a patterned system.
This is the first step in a girl’s life to becoming a woman. A woman usually has periods till ages 50-60.
Irregular periods is a common phenomenon. There are various causes for it but for teenagers, after getting their first period, it will take a few months for it to stabilize and join the 28 day cycle.
Irregular periods can also be due to starting or stopping a particular physical exertion or varying amount of stress or any sort of change to the body routine, like starting or stopping medications etc. Most of these reasons also apply to the school going crowd which can justify their irregular periods.
Sanitary products are used during menstruation, the main products being sanitary pads or napkins and tampons. There are a variety of reusable products that also can be used like cloth pads, sponges, menstrual cups, reusable underwear and blanket, which is a thick towel that is to be places between the legs overnight and can be washed.
During periods, the most important factor that girls should take care of, is hygiene in order to avoid having any infection.
Signs of first period
- About 2-6 years prior to having her first period, a girl will notice some change on her chest or breast budding. This means, the nipple elevates a bit. After this only will the breast develop which will be a bit later.
- About 2-3 years after a girl’s breast begins to develop, she gets her first period. She then starts wearing cup bras.
- Six months prior to the first period, a girl observes a considerable amount of clear or white vaginal discharge. This is very normal and is no cause for concern or panic, unless it causes discomfort and itchiness.
- Girls will begin to notice pubic hair 3-6 months prior her first menstrual period.
- Girls experience a considerable growth spurt like, increasing waist size and increasing height, around the same time as getting her first period.
- Girls also start to sweat more when their first period is approaching.
- Many girls experience an acne breakout on the skin due to a considerable amount of hormonal changes in their body which their body is getting accustomed to.
- Cramping in the lower abdomen and lower back for girls is one of the most common signs when they are having their first period.
What happens to body during menstrual cycle?
During the menstrual cycle, there is a rise and fall of hormones in the body. The menstrual cycle begins with ovulation and ends with menstruation. Ovulation takes place for the first half of the menstrual cycle wherein levels of ‘the female hormone’ also known as oestrogen, rises. Oestrogen is helpful in building and strengthening of bones for a growing body. Oestrogen is also responsible for forming the lining on the walls of the uterus. When this lining is being formed, during the same time, an egg in the ovary starts to mature. On day 14, the egg, once fully matured, leaves the ovary.
This process is called ovulation. Over the next few days, the egg, having left the ovary travels through the fallopian tube and stays there for 24 hours for a sperm to arrive. A woman is pregnant if the egg gets fertilized, by coming in contact with a sperm, after which it will get attached to the uterine wall and form an embryo. If it does not get fertilized, the egg on reaching the uterus disintegrates and the hormone levels in the body drop. Now the process of menstruation starts where the lining of the uterus is shed and comes out as discharge.
Precautions during periods
- Girls should always carry a sanitary napkin or a tampon in the bag while going out as a habit.
- They must change the sanitary napkin or tampon every 4-8 hours.
- Having a protein and iron rich diet during menstruation is beneficial since a lot of blood loss takes place at this time.
- Keeping warm during periods helps diminish pain.
- Rigorous exercises should not be done while menstruating. Light workout should be fine and doing yoga is known to alleviate stomach cramps.
- One should stay away from aerated drinks as it increases the bleeding and stomach cramps.
- Consumption tangy or spicy food should be avoided
- Consuming warm beverages is known to reduce stomach cramps and also calm the body. It is known to help most women when they feel uneasy or uncomfortable while on their period as well.
When to consult a doctor?
The following are the ways when it is best to consult a doctor or a specialist:
- When a girl or woman experiences periods twice a month or when her period is less than 21 days apart.
- When there is no or infrequent bleeding for 35 days or more (medically termed Oligomenorrhea)
- When there is no bleeding for 90 days or more or, for 3 menstrual cycles (medically termed Amenorrhea)
- When the periods become irregular for a person used to have regular periods.
- When there is excessive bleeding where the pad or tampon needs to be changed every hour or every other hour or for longer than 7 days (medically termed Menorrhagia).
- If the person experiences severe and unbearable stomach cramps while menstruating.
- If a girl does not get her first period by age 17.
- When the period lasts for more than a week.
- Women suffering from anaemia will need an iron rich diet or iron supplements for having regular periods.
- When there is vaginal bleeding for a girl before the age of 8.
- When women suffer from PMS in severe ways.
Myths & Facts
The following are some myths busted, complemented with some facts:
|Tampons should not be worn for the first period||There is no reason not to wear tampons for the first period. One needs to be careful to use it properly by strictly following the instructions on the box as well as taking advice from someone with experience to use it.|
|Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) is all in the mind||PMS is a real problem many women face, but not all women. Those who do face PMS feel emotional instability, have drastic mood swings and feel extreme pain in the abdomen. This occurs just before menstruation and even during. It is not a state of mind.|
|Girls or women cannot work out while menstruating||There is nothing wrong with working out while being on periods. Exercise is known to alleviate cramps and charge up women during their periods. One must not exert themselves too much, so a light or moderate work out is fine and try to avoid doing any rigorous exercise.|
|Girls or women using tampons are not virgins||This is not true. Tampons being smaller and thinner than penises, when used as a sanitary product during menstruation, does not reach or break the hymen. So this should be understood that tampons do not affect the hymen of a woman and thus does not affect her virginity.|
|A heavy flow means something is wrong||Oestrogen levels being high during the teenage years, girls will face a heavy flow and this is normal. Only if periods last for more than 7 days with the need to change the pad every 2-3 hours, it is a cause for alarm.|
|Women cannot swim while menstruating||It was believed that if women who were menstruating swam in the ocean, sharks would come after them since sharks were considered to be attracted to blood. This is just a story that has been told for many years and has no authenticity to it.|
|Bed rest is a necessity when menstruating||One must get adequate rest and sleep while on their period but ‘bed rest’ is not needed as periods are a normal biological process in women and there is nothing different about that. So women should lead a normal daily life.|
|Period stopped under water||This is not true. Periods do not stop when one is standing in a pool or in the sea. The lining of the uterus continues to shed but the water provides a counter-pressure which does not allow the flow to come out. It is laws of physics that act here and not the idea that water halts the process of menstruation.|
Does having periods hurt?
Usually, menstruation does not hurt but some women and girls suffer from stomach cramps which make them quite uncomfortable.
Do periods smell?
Periods in itself does not smell but when the blood reacts with air and sweat and bacteria in it, it gives an odour. The only way to dodge this is by regularly changing your pad or tampon during the day.
How much blood is lost during periods?
Usually, a woman loses less than 100ml of blood. A girl weighing 50kg has 3.5 litres of blood, so 100ml blood is not much and this lost blood is quickly made up for by the cells in the bone marrow. Some women may experience heavy flow with a lot of clotting, which could cause anaemia.
Are the periods going to be regular as soon as they start?
No, periods will be irregular for at least a year and after that as well it will not be exact regular but till the age of 18, the body will try to adjust according to the hormones and only after that will periods be on a regular cycle.
What if periods starts while at school?
If a girl’s period starts while she is at school, firstly, she should not panic. It is advisable to carry a pad/tampon in the bag for safety reasons such as this. Otherwise, go to the nurse at school or the warden, whoever may be having one and wear it immediately.
How does a woman get rid of stomach cramps?
Using pain relievers like ibuprofen can help in subsiding the pain. Heating pads or hot-water bags on the lower back or abdomen can also help relax the body from cramps. A warm or hot shower is also known to calm the body down.
Why do some women feel they have gained weight around their time of menstruation?
Before and during menstruation, the body tends to retain more water thus making the woman feel heavier. Women also gain a couple of pounds and lose it right after menstruating. It is a normal affair. Avoiding salt during this time seems advisable as salt increases water retention.
Why is the colour of period sometimes brown?
Brown color occurs mostly from old blood, there is no reason to worry. The blood may have been red when it came out but with time turned brown. Sometimes, clots can also be brown, especially towards the beginning of the bleeding stage and that would be due to scraps of lining from the previous month which is very normal.