Despite its biological inevitability and necessity, getting her first period can be overwhelming and intimidating for a young girl, especially when it comes to learning how to actually manage “the flow.” For many parents and their daughters, pads are likely the easier, less scary option. But what about swimmers or gymnasts who need a more discreet option, or girls who prefer to keep the flow as contained as possible, ultimately preferring tampons?
Navigating the world of menstrual cycles with girls who have newly arrived at womanhood is no easy task, even for moms, who have clearly “been there and done that.” But with the following tips and advice, hopefully the process will be a bit less daunting for all parents and caregivers.
Ideally, parents will have talked with their daughters about their bodies and the coming changes—including what products they will use —well before the first cycle rears its bloody head. But, with girls getting their periods earlier and earlier (sometimes as young as age 8 or 9), surprises are common. The key, then, is to avoid relying on older friends or family members or school nurses to provide the brunt of the information your daughter will so desperately be looking for.
“This is her first and often most memorable experience with becoming a woman,” says Anea Bogue, acclaimed female self-esteem expert and author of 9 Ways We’re Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop: A Guide to Helping Girls Reach Their Highest Potential. “As such, it can significantly impact the way she feels about her maturing body and what she understands about the way society values being female.”
While menstrual cycles have historically been regarded as a taboo topic, making girls feel dirty about or ashamed of their bodies’ natural process, Bogue and her business partner Shelli (together they launched My True Moon, a line of organic tampons and other products) believe that a girl’s first period should be a joyous occasion. “It’s vital to make this a celebration and include her in deciding how she’ll celebrate, with whom, how she might share her rite of passage and how she’ll incorporate this new responsibility into her life,” says Bogue. “It can be a very positive and empowering event for a girl that will create a solid foundation for the way she views and relates to her body. In fact, research suggests that girls who learn about menstruation in a positive and truly informed way experience menstruation, both physically and psychologically, in a more positive way.”
When it comes to maintaining feminine hygiene, it’s safe to say that Tampax aisle in the grocery store has come a long way, Baby. In addition to the standard disposable pads and tampons, there are now organic options, which are free of the chemicals found in traditional tampons. There are also cloth pads that can be washed and reused, as well as menstrual cups, which are inserted into the vagina like a tampon and then emptied throughout the day.
Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, a pediatrician with MVP Kids Care in Phoenix, recommends that younger girls (ages 8-12) start with pads. “This is because young girls need to learn about their individual menstrual cycles—how long they last, when they are the heaviest, lightest, etc,” she explains. “Also, young girls are usually too inexperienced with their internal genitalia to be able to insert tampons correctly and comfortably.” Girls can then move to tampons once they are mature enough and have had sufficient experience with their cycles, says Holmgren. Always, though, there must be a strong emphasis on tampon education. “Girls should be instructed about how to insert the tampon—while sitting, laying down or standing with a leg elevated—as well as how far to insert the tampon and how frequently to change the tampon,” she adds. “And they should know that if they can feel the tampon, if it hurts or is uncomfortable or causes extra cramping, it isn’t in correctly.”
But certainly, as mentioned previously, some girls may shy away from pads even in the beginning, for practical or personal reasons, thus necessitating a more thorough conversation/demonstration the first time around. Luckily, though, Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has created Period Packs, a box full of period-related products and other goodies that are sure to break the ice.
“I was the only daughter to a widowed father and three brothers raised on a ranch in Upstate New York,” says Agudela, as she explains the inspiration behind her business. “When my period came, it arrived without much support or information. The one positive thing I recalled was receiving a box of menstruation information and samples in the mail from Procter & Gamble. When my niece got her period unexpectedly at the extremely young age of 9, I put together a box of goodies and gave it to her. She loved it so much that it became the catalyst for the creation of Period Packs.”
Agudela’s Period Packs give girls the opportunity to experiment with different products to see what works best for them, while also celebrating their unique femininity (kits also include fun stuff like chocolate-flavored lip gloss, to squelch any stubborn period cravings). Her company provides boxes for both the pad- and tampon-inclined, as well as an organic-only option. Ultimately, though, the decision on which products to use should still be discussed between a parent and daughter, allowing for plenty of questions and answers.
“Period Packs are one way parents can introduce the concept of menstruation in a unique, fun and relaxed manner, while at the same time, bridging parents’ ability to converse with their daughters about all related topics from boys and hygiene to sex and pap smears,” says Agudela. “Our feeling is that by delivering a gift box filled with both useful tips and tools and fun products, parents themselves can more comfortably discuss their daughter’s maturing body and responsibility for that body. Everyone needs a little help, and when it comes to something as sensitive as menstruation, a little extra can go a seriously long way.”