My first conversation about periods happened with my classmates when I was in the sixth standard. Huddled on two benches during the school recess time, six preteens discussed what we “knew” about periods – we can’t play sports during that time, we can’t wear bloomers anymore, we stink all day during those god awful days.
A discussion full of truths, half-truths and misconceptions.
We didn’t know any better until each one of us got our first period in the following years and our parents finally opened the conversations.
It is in your hands, as a parent, to ensure your daughter is introduced to menstruation with facts and an assurance that periods are not to be scared of, that it is a natural process and she has a number of options to deal with the flow and cramps.
1. Start Early
My mom got her periods when she was 14 years old, I got them when I was 13 and my younger cousin got them when she was 12 years old. Puberty is hitting early with every generation so it is important to begin the conversations well in advance. Talk to your daughter about why we get periods, how frequently one is expected to get them, what challenges lie ahead of her and how she can deal with them. Equally important is to ask her what she knows about periods. This cannot be a one-way conversation but a dialogue that activates from time to time. Make sure you keep the conversation alive even after your daughter settles down to the menstruation cycle.
2. Plastic Pads are Not the Only Option
I recently spoke with Malini Parmar, the founder of StoneSoup about how she is a zero-waste parent to her daughters. She told me that her younger one, who is 12, uses a menstrual cup and a cloth pad while the elder one is comfortable with reusable cloth pads during her periods.
So, disposable plastic pads are not the only menstrual hygiene product available to girls. See, we understand that tampons and menstrual cups can be a little tricky for young girls. But that should not restrict your conversations about them. Talk to them about how one uses them, what purpose they solve and about their comfort levels. Let them make the decision then.
Besides, you still have options like reusable cloth pads, period panties and biodegradable disposable pads in case she is not comfortable about using the said options. Show her how to use each of them, explaining their pros and cons in detail.
3. Why Do We Get Periods?
Don’t let periods be “this thing that happens” without explaining the reason behind it. Talk to your daughter about anatomy, about the reproductive system as well as the health issues connected with menstruation. PCOS, PCOS, heavy bleeding, light bleeding, irregular periods- all of these topics need to be discussed in a compassionate, understanding way. Also, warn her that periods come with cramps and sometimes they can seem unbearable. But we also have menstrual cramp roll-ons to aid with the pain so not to worry.
4. PMS and Other Issues During Periods
Moodswings, food cravings, slight nausea may accompany your daughter’s period date. Don’t let her be puzzled about such things and have an open conversation about the Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Some foods can help you induce periods naturally. Read about them here.
I have always been envious of girls whose periods last for three days because mine goes on for seven. But thankfully, I never get severe stomach cramps like many other women I know. Our bodies are different and will have different period experiences. Your preteen daughter must know this. Also inform her that for the first few months, her periods are most likely to be irregular. Over time, the date may or may not settle. Since one in five women in India battle PCOS, the latter cannot be shunned as a possibility.
5. Regular Visits to Gynaecologists
Gynaecologists are not doctors you visit only when you get sexually active. They are here to guide you through health issues related to menstruation too. Take your daughter for regular gynaecology check-ups so the topic about reproduction, reproductive health issues and happy periods are not alien in your home. Your daughter is going to need all the positivity and support you can offer in the first few years of her period. Make sure you, as a parent, provide it to her.
6. Changes in her body
Periods means puberty and with puberty comes the many challenges that girls face. Now is the time to open dialogue about how the female body will change in the coming years so your daughter is prepared for it. Growing breasts, chest pains, bras, a change in energy levels, pubic hair- she is to experience all of this and with a friendly, understanding parent by her side, the changes won’t seem so daunting.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)