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Let’s Talk About First Periods

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For the month of January, Anna and I thought it would be fun to share several of the ways puberty and perimenopause mirror one another! I have always found it ironic that moms and daughters often find themselves treading through this space simultaneously, and now here I am at 45 starting this journey with an 11-year old daughter!

This week, we’re talking periods – the first and the last! It would be great if we had a switch to just turn on and off. Instead, the best word to describe our ovarian activity (which leads to periods) at the start and end would be…sputtering! Instead of a beautifully coordinated event, the first and last periods are marked with lots of irregularity.

Although the first period is always a bit of a surprise, there are some clues to help determine when this monumental event might occur. Things to watch for include the development of breast buds (which typically show up about 1.5-3 years before), increase in pubic hair (usually fairly “filled in” by the time the 1st period comes around), and something referred to as “peak height velocity”.  (Think the fastest growth of a growth spurt…like several inches in a matter of months!)  From here, you can usually expect that first period within six months. For most girls, the first period occurs at around age 12-13, although anywhere from age 9-16 is considered “normal”!

What a lot of women don’t know is that the second period can be equally as difficult to predict! It can be as soon as three weeks or up to 12 weeks after the first, and is totally normal! In fact, for the first one to three years, anything between 21-45 days is normal, and the length of the cycle can vary within that range. That means the period won’t always start on the same day of the month, and that’s okay! In fact, she might have two in one month or even skip a month or two. Bottom line, irregular periods are quite normal during those first few years. A couple of reasons to prompt a visit to her health care provider (HCP) would be periods that are frequently occurring more often than every 21 days, or periods that are routinely more than two to three months apart. 

The best way to help young women learn how to predict their periods is by getting them an old-fashioned paper calendar.  There are plenty of apps available, but most rely on “normal” or “regular” cycles when making their predictions. This can be challenging for young women when cycles may not fit a regular pattern at the start. There’s nothing better than a paper calendar for discovering patterns and understanding the unique aspects of our own cycles. 

And of course, the more she knows the better!  There are some great books and online resources. Three of my favorites include the American Girls book – “The Care and Keeping of You” (Volumes 1 & 2),  Celebrate Your Body (and It’s Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls, and the Girlology website. But you know the who the greatest resource is? YOU! Moms, sisters, aunts, and more! Start the dialogue young, and it will create a space where she feels safe and comfortable coming to you for all of this important information. 

Stay tuned, friends!  Anna’s back tomorrow on IG and Facebook to talk about perimenopause and what’s normal at the other end of the reproductive spectrum.

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