Periods: the facts

Periods can turn up at the most inconvenient moments, but don’t be too hard on them – they show your body’s healthy. Here’s all you need to know about periods.

Girl wearing red

Fact: Periods are a pain.

What is a period?

A period is a monthly bleeding from the womb through the vagina. In medical terms it’s known as menstruation.

Periods shouldn’t be treated as a curse or a taboo. They’re a natural part of every woman’s life, and a sign that her body is working normally.

Periods are annoying. Why do women have them?

In short, so we can continue making the human race. Women are born with thousands of eggs inside their ovaries. Each month, a new egg is released into the womb, where a baby would develop if the egg was fertilised by sperm. Unless you become pregnant, the egg is shed, along with the soft lining of the womb. This is your menstrual bleed. At the same time, a new egg takes its place in the womb, the lining begins to thicken once more, and the cycle begins again.

When should you get your first period?

Girls usually get their first period between the ages of nine to 16. Before that you may get a sticky white discharge for a few months. This is normal.

You may start your period and not have another one for six months or so. A regular pattern should settle down after a couple of years, but if it doesn’t and you’re worried, speak to your GP.

How long should a period last?

Bleeding lasts anything from three to eight days, but the amount and flow is different for every girl.

It may feel like you lose loads of blood, but on average it’s only about six to eight teaspoons.

How often will I have my period?

An average cycle is roughly 28 days, but it’s perfectly normal to have much shorter or longer cycles. Keep track of it by marking your first day on a calendar each month.

But don’t panic if they’re irregular. There are many reasons for missed and irregular periods.

Should I use tampons or sanitary towels?

This is down to personal preference. Towels soak up the blood as it leaves the vagina; tampons are inserted inside the vagina and absorb the blood there. Both need to be changed several times a day during your period.

Different products are tailored to different blood flows. Use whatever feels most comfortable for you. You can read more about using tampons in our article here.

Are there any alternatives to tampons and sanitary towels?

Don’t fancy the idea of tampons or towels? No problem, try one of these alternatives:

The Mooncup is a reusable silicone cup that’s inserted into the vagina where it collects the blood, much like a tampon. It needs to be removed, rinsed and reinserted after up to eight hours, but is reusable every time you have a period.

Sea sponges work exactly like a tampon. They are worn internally and are held in place by your vaginal muscles, absorbing your menstrual flow. They do need to be changed every few hours, but instead of throwing them away you can both rinse and reuse the one you were wearing, or put a dry one in.

Why are my periods heavy?

Some women have very heavy periods (known as menorrhagia), which can have a number of different causes. If you’re losing significant amounts of blood, e.g. a super absorbent towel doesn’t last for an hour, then make an appointment to see your doctor.

Why do I get period pain?

A ‘period pain’ is where the muscles in your uterus contract too hard or fast thus restricting the blood flow, which produces pain. It can feel like a mild cramp or hurt so much you can’t get out of bed.

A hot water bottle, hot bath or mild painkiller can help ease the pain. Stretching exercises as well as regular exercise and a good diet can also help in the long run.

But if you’re doubled over in agony every month and nothing relieves it, speak to your GP.

Why do I feel sad/moody?

If you feel like there’s a black cloud following you for no apparent reason a week or so before your period starts then you may be suffering from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). No one really knows what causes it, but most experts blame it on the increased levels of hormones just before your period starts.

PMS can come with a whole host of other unwelcome symptoms, such as bloating, headache, tiredness, weight gain, loss of confidence etc. Natural supplements, such as evening primrose oil, vitamin B6 or starflower oil can relieve the symptoms, but if these don’t cut the mustard speak to your GP.

Why do I get spots?

Again, the finger’s pointed at hormones and stress during your period can cause this. So reducing your stress levels will help – we know, easier said than done when you have a face full of spots. Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day and eating healthily can also help.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of red girl by Shutterstock