This month at LOLA we launched our First Period Kit. It’s filled with everything a girl needs for her first period including tampons, pads, and liners made with organic cotton. We also included a carrying pouch and stickers for cycle tracking. As we developed the kit, we talked to teens, parents, doctors, and teachers and a common thread became clear: many girls don’t feel prepared for their first period. Through April, we’re tackling some of the most requested first period topics on The Broadcast. Want more first period tips? Check out our e-book: LOLA’s personal, honest, real-life guide to your first period, co-written with leading pediatrician, Dr. Lisa Stern.
In life, there are a handful of sensitive subjects that feel completely awkward between a mother and a daughter, and talking about her first period can be one of them. For many mothers, this particular conversation can be reminiscent of the one you had, or more likely didn’t have, with your mother when you got your first period.
It’s important for us moms to normalize this conversation between a mother and daughter. The more comfortable and candid you can make this conversation, the more relaxed your daughter will be when her period pays her a visit for the first time.
Today, on average, a girl will get her first period at 12-years-old, however, puberty, in all its glory, may start as early as 8-years old and last for 10 years. Breast buds are noticeable two years before the period actually starts and can be detected between 8 and 13. Pubic hair, hair under your arms and legs, and acne also join the hormonal party during the “tween” years. It’s important to slowly and comfortably ease your daughter into talking about her body and the changes associated with puberty before her first period occurs.
Here are my suggestions on how to put your best foot forward in talking to your daughter about her period:
1. Be prepared. Do your research so you know the details of puberty. Know the signs and symptoms of puberty so you can gauge the right time to have the talk. Looking for helpful, high-quality information? The US office for Women’s Health has a great resource.
2. Start early. Since breast buds are the first sign of puberty, this signals the best opportunity to start the conversation. You can begin by letting your daughter know she will start to see normal changes in her body that every girl experiences as she develops into a young woman. This first conversation is your chance to let your daughter know you are here to listen to her concerns and questions and she should never feel embarrassed about changes in her body that all young girls experience.
I would hold off on launching into a full, detailed conversation about her period when you talk about her breast development. Remember, this is the beginning of an ongoing dialog and baby steps work best! But, this is a great time to also mention she will start to develop hair under her arms, on her legs, and around her vagina, which is a normal part of puberty. This is also an opportunity to discuss using soap and water while cleaning her vagina. There are intimate non-fragrant soaps that can be used on the vagina that won’t cause infections or dryness.
3. Don’t get caught like a deer in headlights! Even if your daughter doesn’t have easy access to the Internet, you can bet her girlfriends do. When your daughter gets her period for the first time it is a huge milestone and it would be nice if the introduction came from you and not a website that may or may not have credible information.
Since most young girls are completely terrified to get their period for the first time, you can really help ease her anxiety by talking about her period months before it begins. You can begin by sharing your experiences, especially your own personal fears, as your body changed with puberty. Asking her open-ended questions such as “How are you feeling about getting your period?” or “Any fears or concerns?” can also help her to open up on the topic.
It may take you weeks, months, or years to psych yourself up to broach this topic with your daughter, but I bet you will be so glad you were the person educating your daughter about puberty and the changes that are happening to her body.
4. Be respectful. Your daughter may be completely unwilling and uninterested in having a conversation involving her breasts and vagina, let alone talking about her period. If she is not ready you can always say, “I am always here for you if you want to know more about puberty and the changes that will be happening to your body.” Then, you’ve opened the door and can always circle back when she may be more mentally prepared to start talking to you about her changing body. Creative and age-appropriate books and videos can also be a helpful tool for conveying this sensitive topic if your daughter is unwilling to engage in a direct dialog.
5. Pick an appropriate time to have the conversation. I would not have this talk when you are driving your daughter to school in the morning. Find a time where there won’t be any interruptions or distractions and when you have time to address any questions that may arise organically from the conversation
6. Promote body confidence not fear. Teach your daughter about her body, use the correct descriptive terms when talking about her breasts, vagina, and period. Using these descriptive terms may bring some laughter and giggles and that is completely normal. If young girls and women are not able to confidently own the proper words to describe their female body parts, it makes it difficult to comfortably talk about their personal needs and experiences both now and throughout her adulthood.
7. Practice makes perfect. Know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
Your daughter’s first acceptance and acknowledgment of what will be a long relationship with her period should be positively presented so she starts out on the right reproductive health track. It’s up to us, as mothers, to normalize the tough conversations. We owe it to ourselves and, more importantly, we owe it to our daughters and her daughters to set a positive example.