For most females, the first period usually begins around 2 years after the first signs of puberty start. Signs of puberty can include the development of breasts, the growth of body hair, and changes in body shape.
This information comes from the Office on Women’s Health.
Knowing the signs of a first period can help young females and their parents or caregivers feel prepared.
This article will look at some of the signs a female can expect before they begin their period, as well as what it might be like and what to do when it begins.
The best way to tell if a female is about to have their first period is to assess whether or not they have begun puberty.
Some signs of puberty include:
- the development of pubic hair, such as thicker hair on the legs and visible hair under the arms
- the development of acne on the face or body
- the development of breasts
- changes in body shape, such as the hips and thighs thickening
- growing more rapidly
The first period will typically begin a couple of years after the first signs of puberty appear. However, there is no precise way of knowing when it will begin.
Several days before the first period, some females may notice spotting in their underwear or abdominal cramps. Some may also notice more acne appearing. Not everyone will experience this, however.
The first period typically occurs after a female first ovulates. This happens when the ovaries release an egg into the fallopian tube.
When this happens, the womb lining thickens in preparation for the egg to be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur, the lining sheds, as the body no longer needs it. This is where period blood comes from.
In most females, this cycle continues regularly from the age of the first period until menopause, which is when periods end.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average age at which females began menstruating in the United States in 2013–2017 was 11–12 years old. However, periods can start earlier or later than this.
Every female’s period is different. Periods can vary in duration, frequency, and heaviness. Some females have very light periods, while others have heavy periods.
For some, the first period is light, with a small amount of blood. It may begin gradually, starting with some spotting or brown discharge before becoming red.
For others, periods begin suddenly, with bright red blood appearing straight away. In either case, this is normal. Period blood can range in color from brown to dark red. Some people may also pass small blood clots.
Having a period can feel similar to having vaginal discharge, but some females do not feel much at all.
When a period begins, try to find a way to absorb the blood. A female can do this by asking a friend or family member for a pad or tampon.
If it is not possible to use a pad or tampon, try to wrap something absorbent, such as toilet paper or a clean washcloth, around the crotch area of some underwear. This can absorb the blood and prevent leaks.
It can be helpful to prepare a period kit before the first period arrives. This can help with feeling ready. This period kit could consist of:
- an extra pair of underwear
- a variety of tampons and pads, so a female can choose what works best for them
- unscented baby wipes to clean any leakages
Most periods last for 3–7 days. However, first periods can be less predictable, so they may be slightly shorter or longer.
During the first few years after a female’s first period, periods may be irregular, coming at unpredictable intervals. Over time, however, they typically become more regular.
Most females get a period about every 28 days, though the actual length varies from person to person as well as period to period. The cycle length may vary by as much as a week in any given year.
The following sections will look at some absorption methods in more detail.
Sanitary pads are a popular form of period protection. They line the underwear with absorbent material, which soaks up the blood.
Some benefits of pads include the fact that they:
- are easy to use, particularly for beginners
- do not require a female to insert anything into the vagina, which may be daunting
- come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses
- are usable in addition to a cup or tampon
Some drawbacks of pads include the fact that they:
- can bunch up, feel wet, or feel uncomfortable during wear
- create a lot of waste
- can cause skin irritation or rashes
- are not suitable for use while swimming
- can be visible through clothing
It is also possible to purchase reusable fabric pads or period panties, which absorb blood in a similar way to a pad. These products are washable, meaning that a female can reuse them. This can be more cost effective than using disposable pads.
Change pads every 4–8 hours or whenever the current one starts to feel uncomfortable.
Some benefits of tampons include the fact that they:
- can be more comfortable than pads
- are not visible under clothing
- are usable while swimming and playing sports
Some drawbacks of tampons include the fact that they:
- can take time to learn how to use
- can cause some pain upon insertion
- can leak if they are the wrong size or not in the correct position
- carry a risk of causing toxic shock syndrome (TSS) if a female leaves one in for too long
It is crucial to change tampons every 4–8 hours and to use the lowest absorbency possible. Parents and caregivers should ensure that young females who want to use tampons understand how to use them safely to prevent TSS.
Menstrual cups are small silicone cups that females can wear internally. They work by catching blood inside the vagina. When the cup is full, it is important to remove it and rinse it with clean water before reusing it.
Some benefits of menstrual cups include the fact that they:
- come in a range of shapes and sizes, so everyone can find one that fits them
- are reusable, which means that they can be more cost effective than tampons and disposable pads
- are usable for up to 12 hours at a time
- do not produce as much waste as tampons and pads
Some drawbacks include the fact that they:
- can take a little time to learn how to use
- can be difficult to rinse out in public restrooms, though specialized cleansers are available for this purpose
- are not one-size-fits-all, so it can take some time to find one that fits well
Although many manufacturers say that there is no risk of TSS with menstrual cups, there has been at least one confirmed case of TSS in a cup user.
It takes time to adjust to having a period, and they can sometimes cause discomfort. However, periods are a normal part of life, and they do not have to limit or change anyone’s daily activities.
The following tips may help females take care of themselves during their first period.
For pain and cramping, try:
- taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- applying heat pads and hot water bottles
- taking a warm bath
- getting some gentle exercise, such as walking or yoga
After the first period, it can be difficult to predict when the next period will happen. It also takes some time to adjust to using period products. Occasionally, this may result in leaks.
- using different sized pads or tampons based on how heavy the flow is
- using a different period product
- keeping period products in one’s bag, in case it becomes necessary to use one at short notice
- tracking periods using a calendar, diary, or app
It is generally safe to assume that most females who get periods can get pregnant.
The first period usually means that ovulation has occurred. Ovulation means that pregnancy is possible. However, both periods and ovulation can be irregular during the first few years after the first period, making it difficult to predict fertility.
Although it is normal for periods to be somewhat irregular to begin with, it is a good idea to talk with a doctor if they do not settle into a regular rhythm or if they cause symptoms that disrupt daily life.
The frequency and heaviness of periods, and any symptoms that accompany them, can be an important indicator of a female’s health.
It is a good idea for a person to talk with a doctor if they or a young female in their care experiences:
- a heavy flow that requires pad or tampon changes every 1–2 hours
- severe pain or mood changes that prevent normal activities
- no periods for 3 months or longer after the first period
- periods that occur sooner than 21 days apart or longer than 35 days apart
- periods that last for 7 days or longer
- no period by the age of 15 years old
Emergency medical help is necessary if someone develops any symptoms of TSS, which can include:
- sudden fever
- body aches
- nausea and vomiting
- a rash
A female’s first period is an important milestone. Waiting for it can be scary, exciting, or both. There is no reliable way to predict when it will arrive, and periods affect females in different ways.
Once a period begins, it can take time to learn how to manage them. Talk with a trusted adult, doctor, or nurse to ask questions and get advice.