When a teenage girl enters puberty, her body goes through several changes both physical and biological. This includes significant changes to the reproductive system which also marks the beginning of her monthly menstrual cycles, to continue till the woman reaches her 50s and menopause. This is also a phase of excitement and confusion for the girl who has stepped into womanhood. She is experiencing a lot of things, has a lot of questions and is too shy to ask someone. While the mother does answer a few, a lot more remain a mystery, waiting for her to discover by herself. Friends and the internet are another source.
What are periods?
A girl child will go through several changes once she reaches puberty, and the most significant milestone in her life is her first period. Periods are an integral part of the menstrual cycle that occur because of changing hormone levels in the ovaries, which influence the uterus.
The following changes happen during a menstrual cycle:
- The ovaries produce the hormone oestrogen in cysts or sacs called follicles. This stimulates the follicles to produce eggs. Usually, a single egg matures and this is let out after which the ovaries produce progesterone, another hormone.
- This egg travels from the ovary through the fallopian tube towards the uterus.
- The hormones oestrogen and progesterone activate the uterus to create a lining to receive and implant a fertilised egg.
- In case the egg is not fertilised, there will be a drop in hormone levels which results in the lining of the uterus, consisting of blood and other tissue, being discharged through the vagina – this step is referred to as period.
For most young women, their first periods start between the ages of 11 and 14, but the beginning of a period anywhere between 9-16 years is normal.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and hygiene
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is what the girl experiences in her body and her mood before or during her periods. It is usually very intense for 4 days before her period and tapers down 2-3 days after her period begins. Hygiene is a very important aspect that teenage girls need to learn and practice as they enter womanhood. Here are a few important things they need to know.
Choosing between pads, tampons and menstrual cups
Children must discuss this with their mothers or doctors, or at school with counselors. They must learn of the advantages and disadvantages of the various options available for them to use during their periods such as sanitary pads, tampons or menstrual cups. It is important to know what pads, tampons, period-proof underpants, and sanitary cups look like and how to use and dispose them, and also how to use and clean a menstrual cup. It is better for the child to start with period-proof underpants or pads before she goes on to try menstrual cups or tampons. A good thing would be for the child to practice using a tampon or a menstrual cup between periods, by inserting and removing them.
Pads, tampons, period-proof underpants or menstrual cups – how many would be needed
A child will need about 3-6 sanitary pads or tampons a day, although fewer may be necessary when the flow is lighter. Pads or pads with wings could also be used.
1 to 2 period-proof underpants could be needed each day although this depends on how heavy the bleeding is. These underpants must be washed and dried between each use so one may need about 2 to 3 pairs.
Home-made cloth pads carry the risk of infections including severe white discharge, smelly discharge, burning, etc. If these are being used, they have to be washed thoroughly and dried before they are ready for use again.
If using a tampon, one cannot be used for more than 4 hours. It has to be replaced and the used one disposed, by wrapping it in a piece of paper.
Scented products must be avoided for genital hygiene
- To reduce anxiety, it is good to avoid caffeine and get plenty of exercise
- For sore breasts, backache, and headache a warm heating pad could be used or a pain killer (only if necessary).
- Yoga helps in keeping the mind calm and the body flexible