Periods - what to do
periods; menstruation; menstrual; cycle; premenstrual; tension; syndrome; tampons; sanitary; napkins; pads; bleeding; uterus; vagina; painful; dysmenorrhoea; swimming; endometriosis;
Periods are a normal part of a woman's life. Here are some ideas about how to manage some of the things that can worry young women.
There is more information in the topic 'Periods - the facts'.
Many young women, and some older ones, get a lot of pain when their period starts. This pain (called dysmenorrhoea) comes from the muscles in the uterus contracting (tightening). This is sometimes called 'cramps'.
- If the pain is not too bad, simple things like a hot water bottle on your tummy, some exercise, and perhaps medicine for pain (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) could help.
- If you are having a lot of pain, see a doctor, because there are some safe medicines which can make a lot of difference.
- It will be useful to mark when your periods are coming on a calendar, because some of the medicines work best if they are taken just before the period pain starts.
- Sometimes the doctor will recommend that you start taking a contraceptive pill (The Pill), but there are other treatments which can help a lot too.
- Painful periods are a common reason why young women need to take time off school or work, but almost always there is a treatment which can reduce the pain a lot so that you don’t have to take that time off.
- Recent research shows that young women who smoke are more at risk of having premenstrual tension and heavy painful periods. The symptoms increased with the number of cigarettes smoked.
About 1 in 10 young women have severe pain during their periods and sometimes between their periods. This may be due to endometriosis. Often this is a very serious and disabling condition and it may not be diagnosed for many years after the girl or woman starts having severe pain.
You do not have to put up with severe pain. See your doctor and get a referral to a doctor who specialises in management of endometriosis. Many women have found that some doctors do not take their pain seriously, so persist with asking for a referral to a specialist.
For some women, the changes in the week or so before a period comes can be distressing both emotionally and physically. This is called pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). If you notice symptoms every month before your period is due, then it may be due to PMS.
Some of the symptoms that can come with PMS are:
- irritability, depression or mood swings
- tiredness or much more energy than usual
- feeling bloated
- food cravings (sweet foods usually, such as chocolate!)
- constipation or diarrhoea
- difficulty concentrating
- decreased efficiency
- back aches
Sometimes some lifestyle changes can make these symptoms less of a problem. Try a few of these ideas:
- eating a healthy diet
- increasing your exercise level
- getting plenty of sleep
- yoga, massage or meditation
- swimming or dancing
- eating foods high in Vitamins B6, B1, B-complex, and C, and in calcium and iron - if your diet does not adequately supply you with these
- avoiding smoking.
Some women find that vitamin B6 supplements or some herbal medicines are useful.
If PMS is a problem for you, see your doctor. There are treatments that can make a difference.
If you get your period and you aren’t ready for it, and get some blood on your clothes, do not fear, help is not far away.
- You can go to someone and ask for some help. For example if you are at school, a teacher could get you a tampon or pad and let you change clothes - remember all female teachers have periods and they know what this is like!
- As for the stain, it is something that cold water and soap can fix.
- Usually periods start slowly so you get a bit of a warning before there is a lot of blood. Some young women keep tampons or pads at school or work just in case.
- Remember too that about one in five of your friends will probably have her period at the same time, and she may be able to help you if you need a pad.
When your periods stop!
For normal periods to occur, many parts of your body need to be working well, including your ovaries, uterus, pituitary gland (part of the brain) and hypothalamus (another part of your brain). There are lots of (rare) ways for something to go wrong, but the three common causes for periods to stop are:
- getting pregnant - this only happens if you have sex
- losing too much weight
- exercising too much.
If your periods stop, then it is important to have a doctor check what is going on.
All about tampons and pads
You can choose yourself whether you would like to wear tampons or pads (sanitary napkins) - talk about this with your mother or another close woman. You will probably make this decision based on what feels most comfortable for you.
- Most young women start with pads, but tampons can be used. You do not need to have been sexually active to use a tampon. You must keep both forms of protection wrapped up and clean until you use them.
Pads - Sanitary Napkins
- Most pads (or sanitary napkins) are made to stick to the inside of your pants (knickers) and absorb the blood.
- They have a plastic lining underneath to prevent any leakage, and crystals inside to absorb the fluid.
- Change them several times a day. To dispose of them, wrap them up (you could use toilet paper, newspaper or a plastic bag) and place them in the rubbish bin.
- Do not flush pads down the toilet or there will be big blockage problems.
- Pads are a common choice when you have just begun menstruating - they are easy to use, and they fit everyone.
- There are extra large ones for overnight, or when your period is very heavy, and small ones (mini's) for ‘light’ days when your blood loss is getting less.
- Tampons are placed inside the vagina and also absorb the blood. Tampons can not get lost inside your body. The passage through the cervix from the vagina to the uterus is very narrow and no tampon can go through it.
- Some women find that using an applicator is easier, but most women don’t use one. Make sure your hands are clean before you insert a tampon.
- Tampons have a string on the end, which you pull on to remove it.
- You should be changing your tampons about 4 or 5 times a day. Inside a tampon box you will find a piece of paper telling you step-by-step how to use them.
- Tampons should be disposed of in the same way as pads - "wrap 'em, don't flush 'em"!
- It is probably better to use a pad overnight, because leaving a tampon in all the time can dry out the lining of the vagina, and there is a small risk of getting an infection in the vagina. If you start to get a smelly or itchy rash, pain or tenderness, or feel unwell, stop using tampons and see your doctor.
- There are several myths that say that there are chemicals inside tampons which can poison you or cause other harms. These myths are not true.
- You can play any sport while you have a period.
- Some elite sportswomen report that they can perform even better than usual around the beginning of their period. They seem to have extra energy and maybe a bit more aggression than usual.
- Playing sport seems to help relieve some premenstrual symptoms too.
- Shorts will hide your knickers, so that no one will notice you are wearing a pad.
Swimming and having a bath
- You can swim and have baths while you have your period.
- The water will quickly wash out any blood in the vagina and after the first few minutes the loss will be so small no-one else will see it.
- Bathwater, pool water or sea water cannot get inside your body when you have a period (just as it cannot get inside when you are not having a period).
- Going to the toilet before going swimming could help you feel more confident about this.
- Women who swim a lot usually use a tampon. They need to remove the tampon as soon as they get out of the water, and put in a dry one.
Nemours - Teen Health
The Royal Women's Hospital, Victoria
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.