Periods are a part of being female. After puberty new membrane linings form in the uterus every month, in preparation for a pregnancy. About halfway through your cycle, your ovaries release an egg. If this egg is fertilized, the mucous membrane remains. But if there's no fertilized egg, the uterus will begin to bleed approximately 14 days after ovulation in order to rid your body of the membranes, particles and fluids that have formed in the uterus. This takes a few days and is called a period.
The amount of blood loss is individual for every female. But as a general rule, the average amount of blood lost is no more than four tablespoons. Most girls and women bleed more during the first days of their periods. There are many factors that determine how much and for how long you bleed. Besides hereditary reasons, you may also bleed more or less because of your stress level, your diet, your choice of contraception, or if you have given birth.
For girls the first sign is usually that their breasts begin to grow. They may start to feel slightly tender and one may grow a little quicker than the other, although no one but you is likely to notice! Everyone is different, and for some girls it can take a while after breasts start developing for periods to start. Around half of girls aged 12 have started their period, but some may start when they are 9 years old, while others might be 16. We're all different, so don't panic if your periods start earlier or later than your friends.
There are 3 types of products that can be used for periods:
- Sanitary towels;
- Pantyliners; and
Sanitary towels are also known as pads and come in a variety of sizes and thicknesses. Thinner towels are known as 'ultra towels' and thicker ones as 'maxi towels'.
A pad is secured to your underwear by a sticky strip, and some towels also have 'wings' that fold around your underwear for extra security. A good towel is shaped to fit your body, comfortable on your skin, discreet and most are invisible through clothes.
Pads are available in many different sizes to suit different needs. A 'normal' product can be useful if your period is light to average and may be especially useful during the last days of your menstruation. When you get older, you may need to use a more absorbent towel for heavier menstrual bleeding and to keep you protected overnight.
Remember to always put used towels in the bin and not down the toilet!
You can use pantyliners to absorb vaginal discharge, to carry when expecting your first period, or if you are bleeding just a little. Liners, like pads, also come in various sizes and may be used to keep you feeling fresh when you're not on your period.
A tampon is slightly different to towels and pantyliners as it protects from the inside rather than the outside: absorbing menstrual blood inside the vagina so that you always feel dry outside. They allow you to move around freely and can be useful for activities such as swimming. Always start with the smallest size available.