What to Expect During Your First Period

Menarche is the technical term for the first menstruation. The average age of menarche is 12 years old, and most people with uteruses will have a period by age 15.

Key takeaways:
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    The first period starts around two years after puberty and happens in people with a uterus.
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    Puberty changes can still occur during this time, allowing the body to continue developing.
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    While having a period may be uncomfortable, it is vital to know the signs of an irregular period and when to see a doctor.

Your first menstruation

For most people, menstruation more commonly known as a period will start anywhere between ages 8 and 15. However, it can be earlier or later. If it doesn't start by the time you turn 16 years old, you should speak to your family doctor to find out more information.

When your body is about to start your first cycle, you may see dark red or reddish brown spots in your underwear or on your sheets. This is called "spotting." Some people may have a heavier flow to begin with, and this is ok too.

Before your period starts, you can experience mild cramping in the lower abdominal area. Some people may feel like they have to poop more often too.

Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • Headaches;
  • Fatigue;
  • Cramping in low back or abdomen;
  • Bloating;
  • Sore breasts;
  • Acne.

Sometimes people refer to these uncomfortable symptoms as PMS (premenstrual syndrome). These symptoms can start anywhere between 2 weeks to 5 days before the start of your period.

People will lose anywhere between 1 to 6 tablespoons of blood during their menstruation. The blood can be brown, pink, or red. The blood may sometimes be runny or sometimes have small clumpy clots. The amount of bleeding can vary from period to period but should become more regular over time.

Body changes with the first period

The start of your menstruation is a milestone in puberty, where you will begin to develop more into adulthood. When your period starts, your body will go through several changes. Some of these changes may have begun a couple of years prior, and now they will continue to develop.

Everyone develops and grows at different rates and different sizes. As your body develops after your first cycle, your vulva may change, grow, and darken in color. Your breasts will start to change as well. Your hips and thighs might grow larger as well, and you may continue to grow in height. Some people begin to develop pubic hair around this time.

The menstrual cycle explained

The menstrual cycle occurs when the uterus sheds a lining of tissue after the luteal phase when there is no fertilized egg. The first day of spotting or bleeding is considered day 1 of your cycle. It is normal for your cycle to last anywhere between 2 to 7 days. After your first period, the cycle may not be regular for a few years. Most people have their period every 21-35 days.

When your body realizes there is not a fertilized egg to host in the uterus, your hormones begin to change. The tissue lining in the uterus begins to break down and the bleeding begins. Afterward, the body begins to build up the lining again to start the process over.

The complete menstrual cycle has four phases:

  1. Follicular phase. Your body creates follicles (small sacs) in the ovaries to house eggs for maturity;
  2. Ovulation phase. The ovulation phase occurs when a mature egg is released from the ovaries and travels to the uterus. They travel through tubes called the fallopian tubes that attach the ovaries to the uterus;
  3. Luteal phase. During this cycle, your ovaries release more estrogen and progesterone. These hormones prepare your uterine lining to host a fertilized egg.
  4. Menstrual phase. When not pregnant, your body sheds the uterus lining and starts day 1 of your period. After the uterus sheds its lining during the period, the process begins again at the follicular phase.

Different types of menstrual products

There are multiple types of menstrual products to choose from and several different brands. People who are new to having periods may feel more comfortable using pads or absorbable underwear. You may have to try a few different products to see what works best for you.

Different types of products include:

  • Pads. Pads are cotton lining with a sticker on the back that attaches to your underwear to catch the blood flow;
  • Tampons. Tampons are cotton plugs with a string attached that are inserted into the vaginal canal to absorb blood. Tampons can only be left in for a maximum of 8 hours or can lead to a serious condition called toxic shock syndrome;
  • Menstrual cup. Menstrual cups are silicone based cups that are inserted into the vagina to capture blood, which can then be emptied into the toilet. The menstrual cups are reusable, and can be cleaned and reinserted;
  • Absorbable underwear. Absorbable underwear is special underwear designed to catch and absorb period blood. These can be washed and reused like normal underwear;

Some people use different products during different days of their period, or sometimes in combination. If your flow is heavy, you might be able to use a tampon and a pad in case there is any leakage. Some people might prefer using a menstrual cup along with absorbable underwear. Do not use two internal products at one time. Only one internal and external product should be used at a time.

What is not a regular menstrual cycle?

PMS symptoms may be uncomfortable, but they should not affect your day to day activities. If you are experiencing severe symptoms of cramping, bleeding, or tiredness, you should visit your doctor to further investigate.

Abnormal signs to watch for include the following:

  • Excessive blood clots;
  • Large blood clots;
  • Excessive bleeding;
  • Severe mood swings;
  • Excessive pain and cramping;
  • Severe fatigue;
  • Bleeding in between periods;
  • Periods lasting longer than a week;
  • Continuously missing periods or being late (irregular cycle).

Can you become pregnant right after your first period?

Yes, you can become pregnant as soon as you have your first period and even shortly before. Your ovulation phase occurs before the menstrual phase. This is when the egg travels down the fallopian tubes where it can be fertilized by sperm before settling in the uterus.

If it becomes fertilized through sexual intercourse, then it has the ability to develop into a baby and attaches to the uterine wall that has been built up. If the egg does not become fertilized, then the uterine lining begins to shed, starting the menstrual cycle.

Who can have periods?

Anyone with a uterus and estrogen and progesterone hormones can have a period. You have to have at least one ovary and a uterus to menstruate. This means that cisgender females, transgender men, and non-binary people with these organs can have their period.

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