What Dads Need to Know About Their Daughter’s First Period
There are a number of reasons why you may be interested in, or learning about, your daughter’s first period, as a dad. Maybe you’re a single father, perhaps you’re simply looking to be well-informed about the changes that are occurring (or about to occur) in your offspring’s body, or it could just be that you’re preparing for this important informative talk with your spouse.
Whatever reason you’ve stopped by, we commend you. It’s so important for dads to be involved in their daughter’s life, and that includes the big milestone that is getting their first period. And yes, it is a sensitive topic. But it can definitely be addressed in such a way that it’s informative. It need not be an embarrassing or shameful time, despite the fact that it is an emotional and very big life event for her (and you!).
So today, we’re dedicating this space to let you in on everything you need to know about your daughter’s menstrual cycle…what’s going on, how to educate them, how to support them, period products, and more. Consider this your go-to guide for dads with pre-teen/teen daughters on the brink of womanhood!
What is a Period aka a Menstrual Cycle?
During a period, the lining of a woman’s uterus (the womb) sheds for reproductive purposes. In other words, it’s what’s necessary to prepare the body for a possible pregnancy. The average menstrual cycle lasts for 28 days, but it can last anywhere from 21 days to about 35 days.
How does this cycle occur? With the rise and fall of certain hormones! The pituitary gland in the brain and the ovaries work together to make and release different hormones at different times of the month, which causes the reproductive organs to respond.
The menstrual cycle includes four phases, with the first day of the cycle beginning on day one of bleeding:
- The menses phase from day one to five: the lining of the uterus sheds out through the vagina if pregnancy hasn’t occurred. This is called ‘a period’. Most women bleed for three to five days, but it could last for two days or even seven, all of which are considered normal.
- The follicular phase from day six to 14: estrogen rises, which causes the lining of the uterus to grow and thicken. At the same time, the follicle-stimulating-hormone causes the follicles in the ovaries to grow. It is during days 10 to 14 that the follicles will fully-form to create a mature egg.
- Ovulation from day 14 to 28: the luteinizing hormone causes the ovary to release the mature egg.
- The luteal phase from day 15 to 28: the egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. The hormone level of progesterone rises, which prepares the uterus for possible pregnancy. If the mature egg becomes fertilized by a sperm and attaches itself to the uterine wall, pregnancy occurs. If not, estrogen and progesterone levels drop and the thick lining of the uterus will shed once again, aka a menstrual period.
On average, girls start their period around the age of 12, but it could be as early as eight or as late as 16. The menstrual cycle then repeats itself until menopause, which is usually around the age of 50.
How Long Does a Period Last?
A period typically lasts anywhere from two to eight days. At the same time, many women may experience irregular periods at some point in their lives. This can include very long periods, especially during the first few years of menstruation. After one to three years, it usually begins to stabilize and be more regular in duration.
What is an irregular period?
An irregular period includes periods that are lighter, heavier, arrive unpredictably, or last longer or shorter than what a person considers their average menstruation to be. In actuality, 14 to 25 percent of women have admitted to experiencing “irregular” periods.
When should you worry about the irregularity of a period?
If a menstrual cycle is less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, there may be an underlying issue. In this case, it’s best to consult a professional.
On the other hand, there are some things that can cause an irregular period. Some of these things include:
- Using birth control pills
- Extreme weight loss
- Excessive exercising
- Increased stress
- Changes in diet
- Conditions such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
And then, there is something called “spotting” which is when there is bleeding or light bleeding between periods. This could be because of a hormonal imbalance, STIs, thyroid disorders, or noncancerous growths in the uterus. In this case, it’s also best to consult a professional.
How heavy should a period be?
It changes from person to person. After one to three years after one’s first period, one should be able to predict how heavy or light their period will be moving forward. An indication that a period is too heavy is when there is soaking through a menstrual pad every hour or few hours in a row, and/or noticing clots that are bigger than the size of a golf ball.
When should a professional be consulted?
As we mentioned, it takes one to three years for a girl’s period to stabilize and find its flow. But if:
- It’s irregular after it’s been steady and predictable for a long time
- It stops for 90 days or more and you aren’t pregnant
- It lasts for more than eight days
- You bleed much more than usual
- You soak through a sanitary pad or tampon every one to two hours
- You’re spotting
- Your periods are more than 35 days apart, or less than 21 days apart
- Flu-like symptoms occur after using a tampon, which could indicate ‘toxic shock syndrome’ (a rare yet life-threatening bacterial infection that could arise from keeping a tampon inside the body for too long). A tampon should be changed every four to eight hours.
Preparing for and Supporting Your Daughter During Her First Period
The most important thing for dads to know when it comes to their daughter’s first period is to approach the topic without embarrassing them…and yourself. Us humans are very intuitive, and when you feel noticeably uneasy and perhaps afraid to have this important talk, that may be translated to her, creating even more uneasiness. Of course, it is a huge subject, and not everyone will be able to have it with absolute confidence and certainty, but trying your best can make a big impact.
Then, let’s look at six different ways you can prepare your daughter for her first period:
1. Learn the ins and outs of periods
Take the time to research what a menstrual cycle is, why and how it happens, and why it’s a natural occurrence. And while we’ve provided you with a go-to guide, you could also consult female friends or relatives of yours for a more personal cheat sheet. It may prove useful to talk with her about PMS too (premenstrual syndrome), which can include bloating, anxiety, feelings of depression, and breast tenderness before their period. Sure, it’ll be near impossible to answer any and all questions that she may have, but knowing the basics will go a long way. Give her the space to ask questions and to let you know how she feels about her first period.
2. Make a period kit
When the day finally comes, scurrying around in a panic asking her what kind of menstrual product she wants to use will create even more chaos. Take the time to research the different kinds of menstrual products (see below), and prepare a small kit with all of them. It need not be a massive kit with hundreds of each product, but rather a kit that’s enough for one period so that she can experiment with and find her most comfortable one. Better yet, you can look at all of the products together before her first period so that she herself is familiar with them and how to use each.
3. Tell her that periods aren’t shameful
For way too long, there’s been a massive stigma surrounding periods. Millions of women spend their lives feeling ashamed about their period, hurrying off the bathroom with their chosen product hidden, hoping that no one notices. But menstruation is a normal part of life and happens to 50 percent of the population. There’s simply no room for shame anymore! During your conversation, it’ll be great to mention that girls and women should stick together and support each other. And that includes telling your daughter to subtly and sweetly tell their friends or other girls if they’re leaking.
4. Don’t get too caught up in the negative symptoms
Yes, there is a slew of not-so-fun symptoms that come before and during a period, but bombarding your daughter with everything ‘bad’ will only make her that much more worried and afraid. Mentioning period cramps and possible back pain can be useful, but try not to frighten her.
5. If something doesn’t seem ‘normal’ visit a professional
There’s no harm in seeing a professional if your daughter displays symptoms that don’t seem ‘normal’. This could be debilitating period cramps, a very short or very long period, and/or irregular periods for a few months in a row.
A girl’s first period is actually a huge and joyous milestone. So instead of grabbing your hair in panic, celebrate it. Try not to make it a ‘big deal’ though (in other words, don’t run out and get her a three-tier cake), but instead, give words of encouragement, and note that it’s actually a happy moment…a moment that you’ll both remember forever.
Period Products & How to Use Them
As of today, there are four different period products. And that’s a huge step up from two to three decades ago when the majority of women only had access to pads or tampons.
- Sanitary pads
- Menstrual cups
- Period underwear
Sanitary pads are rectangular pieces of material that stick to the inside of your underwear. It’s been made in such a way that the menstrual flow absorbs the blood, yet (shouldn’t) leak through the underwear. There are different sizes of sanitary pads, some are thicker, thinner, longer and shorter, and some come with “wings” that are wrapped around the underwear and kept in place with adhesive glue. The type of sanitary pad chosen depends on the type of flow, and levels of comfort. Sanitary pads should be changed every three to four hours (or less if a heavier flow). Scented sanitary pads aren’t advised as it could irritate the vagina. To dispose of a sanitary pad, never flush it down the toilet. It can be rolled up, and covered entirely in toilet paper, then thrown in the trash.
Tampons are made from absorbent material, like sanitary pads, but they look like small tubes. Tampons are inserted into the vagina, and there are a variety of different kinds of tampons. Some have an applicator, which one can push for easier insertion, some do not. The latter means that one should use their fingers to insert the tampon fully. To insert a tampon without an applicator means holding the tampon in one hand in between the thumb and middle finger with the index finger at the bottom of the tampon.
Then, open the “lips” of the vagina, find a comfortable position (which could be putting one leg up on the toilet seat for example) then sliding it inside the vagina at an angle that is towards the back of the body. Tampons come with a string at the bottom, which should always be visible outside the vagina. The string is used to pull out the tampon when it’s time to remove or change it. A tampon should be changed every four to eight hours (or sooner for a heavier flow). Be sure to always have clean hands before inserting and removing a tampon. To dispose of a tampon, never flush it down the toilet. It should be covered entirely in toilet paper, then thrown in the trash.
A menstrual cup is a flexible, medical-grade, silicone cup that’s worn inside the vagina. It’s eco-friendly, and reusable, making it an excellent choice not just environmentally, but also when it comes to comfort. A menstrual cup will sit fairly low in the vaginal canal. One way to use it would be to push the front rim of the cup down and hold the cup near the base to keep it folded. Then, gently insert the pointed tip into the vagina. The cup won’t open until it’s past the pubic bone, and after that, the cup will gently open and collect the period blood. But there are other ways to fold a menstrual cup.
The most important thing is to make sure that it’s comfortable and that it fully opens once inside so that there’s no leakage. If it’s been inserted correctly, it won’t be able to be felt at all. If your menstrual cup has a stem, it should not stick out of the vulva. A menstrual cup can be worn for eight hours, depending on the flow. To remove a menstrual cup, squeeze the base, pinch the bottom of the cup until you can feel the seal break and air can enter the cup. Remove the cup, and dispose of the contents into the toilet, then flush. It’s not necessary to clean a menstrual cup after every use during a period, but rinsing it with water in the sink before reinserting is important.
Once a period is complete, you could add three cups of clean water into a pot and boil it on the stove. Submerge the cup, but don’t let it touch the bottom of the pot (whisking it helps). Boil for five to eight minutes, drain the cup, then allow it to air dry. Place it in a case or bag when not in use so that it’ll last longer and stay healthy.
Period underwear or “period panties” are underwear that absorbs period blood. It’s a complete replacement for pads, tampons, and menstrual cups, and can hold up to one or two tampons’ worth of flow whilst keeping a moisture barrier with its multiple layers of microfibre polyester. This material traps liquid and keeps it from leaking onto the clothing. The outer layer is made of nylon and lycra, and then finished with a liquid-repellent film to ensure protection.
To use period underwear is simple, as it is just like putting on a regular pair of underwear. The difference is that it should be changed and cleaned at least every 12 hours, or sooner, depending on the flow. For heavier flows, some prefer to use period underwear along with another menstrual product. To wash period underwear will depend on the type that you’ve purchased. Usually, this is in a delicate cycle with no bleach. If you follow the wash instructions carefully, period underwear can last anywhere from six months to two years.
We suggest having at least two pairs so that they can be worn throughout the menstrual cycle without waiting for one pair to clean and dry. And so, dads, are you ready to support your daughter through her first period and beyond? And while it’s a daunting yet celebratory occasion, we’re here to answer any other questions you may have!
Helena is a sex-positive South African writer who loves swimming in the ocean under the full moon and cheesy 90’s pop. She’s currently living her best life in Porto, Portugal after scouring different continents to find her happy place.