Planned Parenthood

Your Period

Teen Female

Your period at a glance:

  • When you have your period, a bloody fluid comes out of your vagina for a few days.
  • You get your period about once a month.
  • Most girls are between 9 and 16 years old when they have their first period.
  • Many girls have irregular periods — meaning they don’t happen the same time every month.

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What’s the menstrual cycle?

Menstruation is what most people call "having your period." The menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. A normal menstrual cycle can be as short as 21 days or longer than 35 days. For most women, it lasts 25 - 30 days. But it's common for your cycle to vary from month to month.

Here are the basics:

  • You have two ovaries. Each one holds hundreds of thousands of very tiny eggs — too small to even see.
     
  • During your menstrual cycle, the eggs in your ovaries mature and the lining of your uterus (womb) thickens to prepare for a possible pregnancy. The lining is made of tissue and blood, like almost everything else inside us.
     
  • About halfway through your menstrual cycle, a mature egg leaves the ovary. An ovary releases an egg about once a month. This is called ovulation. Most women don't feel it, but some women feel a little pain near their stomach or have a light spotting of blood around the time they ovulate.
     
  • The egg then travels through one of your fallopian tubes toward your uterus. Usually the egg and lining of tissue and blood comes out of your vagina at the end of your cycle. This is called menstrual flow, or your period.
     
  • If sperm joins with an egg, it's called fertilization. Pregnancy begins if a fertilized egg attaches itself to the thick lining of the uterus. This lining is important for the pregnancy, which is why women don't get their periods when they're pregnant.
     
  • Periods stop temporarily during pregnancy. When you're older, your period will stop for good. Usually, it stops when a woman is between 45 and 55 years old. This is called menopause.

What should I expect when I get my period?

Periods usually last about 3-7 days, but may be slightly shorter or longer. During your period, a bloody fluid comes out of your vagina. The heaviness and color (more red or more brown) of the menstrual flow changes from the beginning to the end of your period.

You may have a brownish discharge at the beginning or end of your period, and even sometimes in the middle of your cycle. This is called "spotting," and it's pretty common.

Many women mark the days they bleed on a calendar or on an app on their phones. Keeping a calendar will help you predict when you'll get your next period. Also, you'll be able to tell if your period is late or early. And you'll have a record if you need to see your nurse or doctor about any problems.

There may be signs you're about to get your period, or there may not be. For some, the signs that their periods are going to start are: tender or swollen breasts, feeling tense, and bloating in your belly (feeling puffy or full). Sometimes there's a crampy feeling in your back, legs, or stomach. Some girls get pimples a few days before. These symptoms are called PMS. As you get older, you'll get better at figuring out when your period is coming.

You can carry pads or tampons in your bag when you think your period is coming. Ask your school nurse for them if you forget. Don't be shy — remember, all women get periods. Some schools and other public places have machines in the bathroom that sell tampons or pads. If your clothes accidently get stained, you can wrap a sweater around your waist or ask to go home. You can also keep a change of clothes in your locker.

No one can tell by looking at you that you have your period. You don't look or smell any different or act any differently. People will only know you're having your period if you tell them. You can still swim, play sports, bathe, and do all the things you usually do.

When will I get my first period?

There's no way to know exactly when you'll get your first period. One day, you'll begin to bleed from your vagina, and that's your period. It means that your body is healthy and normal.

Most girls have their first period when they're between 9 and 16 years old. Your period may start around the time it started for other people in your family, like your mom or sisters. If you don't get your period by the time you're 16, you may want to talk with a doctor or nurse.
There may be signs you're about to get your period (like cramping, bloating, or pimples), or there may not be. As you get older, it will be easier to tell when your period is coming.

If you start your period and don't have a tampon or pad, you can ask a parent, friend, teacher, or the school nurse for one.

What’s PMS?

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. PMS causes emotional and physical symptoms that may show up a few days before and during your period. PMS can include sadness, mood swings, feeling bloated, swollen or tender breasts, pimples, feeling tired, and cramping. PMS is caused by hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle.

Some people get PMS every time they have their periods. Others only get PMS every once in a while. You may have all, some, or none of the symptoms. For example, you might get tender breasts and bloating, but not mood swings or pimples. And some people don't get PMS at all.

Many people get cramps before and during their periods as well. You can use a heating pad or take pain medicine to help with cramps. Using hormonal birth control can help with cramps and make your period lighter and more regular.

Talk with a parent or doctor if heating pads and medicine don't help your cramps, or you have other PMS symptoms that are hard to deal with.

Is my period normal?

You're different from every other person in the world. Your periods and menstrual cycles will be different, too. What will be normal for you may not be normal for someone else. Your first few periods may not all be the same either.

You may go between having a light flow and a heavy flow. You might even skip some months. Your period may be late when you get sick, when you're worried or stressed out about something, or for no reason at all. Most likely your periods and cycles will become more regular as you grow older.

Even though it's normal to skip a period every once in a while, if you've had unprotected sex (sex without a condom or birth control) and missed your period, take a pregnancy test.
If your period is so heavy that you have to change maxi pads or super tampons every hour, see a doctor.

How do I use tampons, pads, and cups?

Most women use pads, tampons, or menstrual cups to collect their period flow and protect their clothes from stains. You can buy pads and tampons in most drugstores or supermarkets. Menstrual cups are most easily bought online. Every package has instructions in it. Pads and tampons come in different sizes. Some are for lighter flows (usually called light or slim), and some are for heavier flows (usually called heavy or super).
Using a tampon, cup, or pad takes a little practice. Try different kinds until you figure out what you like best.

Tampons:

Tampons are little plugs of cotton that fit inside your vagina and absorb menstrual blood. Tampons can’t get lost inside your vagina or move to another part of your body. They stay inside until you remove them. Most people can’t feel tampons if they’re placed in the vagina correctly.

How to use tampons:

  • Wash your hands and get into the position that’s most comfortable for you. Many women squat, put one leg up, or sit on the toilet with their knees apart.
  • Slide the tampon into your vagina using the applicator or your finger, depending on what kind of tampon you have.
  • Putting a tampon in your vagina shouldn't be painful, but it may hurt if you’re not relaxed. Using tampons with smooth, rounded applicators may make it easier.
  • If you’re still not comfortable, ask someone you trust (like your mom, sister, or another person you trust) to show you how to correctly place it in your vagina.
  • Do not flush tampon applicators. Throw them away in the trash.
  • Tampons have a string at one end that hangs out of your vagina. Slowly pulling the string removes the tampon. It’s easier to remove a tampon when it’s fully soaked.
  • When you take the tampon out, wrap it in toilet paper and throw it away in the trash.
  • Change your tampon every 3-4 hours to prevent odor and stains on your clothes.
  • You can wear tampons overnight, but not for more than 8 hours. Change it as soon as you get up in the morning.
  • Don't use super or heavy tampons unless you really need them, and change them often.
  • You can wear tampons in the water, and during all kinds of sports and activities.
  • Using a tampon takes practice. Try different kinds until you figure out what you like best, but don’t wear tampons unless you’re actually having your period.
  • Don’t douche or use scented tampons or vaginal deodorants — this can lead to irritation or infection. If you’re worried about odor, change your tampon more often.

Pads: 

Unlike tampons or cups, pads are worn outside of your body. Pads stay in place with a strip of adhesive that sticks to the inside of your underwear. Some have “wings” or flaps that fold over the sides of your underwear to protect against leaks and stains. Like tampons, pads have different sizes. Pads can be very thin (for light flows) or cushy (for heavier flows).

How to use pads:

  • Peel the backing off the adhesive strip and press the pad into your underwear.
  • Change your pad every three to four hours, or when it’s soaked, to prevent odors and stains on your clothes.
  • You can wear pads overnight.
  • Don't flush used pads down the toilet. They'll clog it up. Wrap them in toilet paper and put them in the trash.
  • Pads can be used with tampons or cups as a backup in case of leaks.
  • You can’t wear a pad in the water. If you want to go swimming or do very active sports, use a tampon or cup instead of a pad.
  • Don’t douche or use scented pads or vaginal deodorants — this can lead to irritation or infection. If you’re worried about odor, change your pad more often.

Menstrual Cups:

Menstrual cups are shaped like little bells or bowls, and they’re made of rubber, silicone, or soft plastic. They’re held inside your body by the walls of your vagina, where they collect menstrual fluid.

Most menstrual cups are reusable, which means that you use the same cup over and over again. Some people like this because it’s better for the environment and costs less than using disposable products like tampons or pads.

Cups may look kind of big, but most people can’t feel them once they’re placed into the vagina. Cups can’t fall out, get stuck inside your vagina, or move to another part of your body. They stay inside until you remove them.

How to use menstrual cups:

  • There are different types of cups, but each one comes with directions that explain the best way to use it.
  • Wash your hands and get into the position that’s most comfortable for you. Many women squat, put one leg up, or sit on the toilet with their knees apart.
  • To insert a cup, you usually fold or squeeze it so it’s easier to put in your vagina. Follow the directions that came with your cup to find the best way to put it in.
  • Putting a menstrual cup in your vagina shouldn't be painful, but it may be uncomfortable if you’re not relaxed.
  • If you’re having problems inserting your cup or it feels uncomfortable once it’s in, ask someone you trust (like your mom or sister) to help you read the directions and insert your cup correctly.
  • Menstrual cups can be worn overnight or for up to 12 hours, but you can empty it as often as you want. The cup will leak if it gets too full.
  • To remove and empty a menstrual cup, put your fingers in your vagina, then gently squeeze the cup and pull it out. Empty the menstrual fluid in a toilet, sink, or shower drain. Wash it with warm water and mild, unscented soap (or just wipe off the outside with toilet paper), and then put it back in. Always follow the cleaning directions that came with your cup.
  • Menstrual cups cannot be flushed down the toilet. If you have to throw away a menstrual cup, put it in the trash.
  • Menstrual cups usually take a little more practice to get used to than tampons or pads. It may take a couple of periods to get it right. You can wear a pad as a backup in case your cup leaks. You can’t wear a tampon and a cup at the same time.
  • Cups can be worn in the water and during all kinds of sports and activities.
  • Don’t douche or use vaginal deodorants with your cup — this can lead to irritation or infection. If you’re worried about odor, empty your cup more often.
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Your Period