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The Ultimate Guide to Your First Period

November 4 2021 | Written by Madi Hanaka (She/Her)

Getting your period for the first time can trigger a number of different emotions and questions. With just one quick Google search of “Help! When will I get my first period?” you’ll find yourself in a sea of quizzes and questionnaires that promise to provide answers to those who may be wondering when menstruation will begin. With the help of this week’s blog, Marlow is setting out to answer some of the most common questions about first-time menstruation, so if you are curious about when your period may begin, this post is for you!

What is a period? Why do we get periods? 

Menstruation - also known as a “period” - is when your uterus sheds its lining of blood and tissue. Each month, as the body prepares for pregnancy, your hormones help the eggs in your uterus to mature, eventually causing them to be released into your uterus to be fertilized by a sperm cell. In order to prepare the womb for a potential fertilized egg, and soon, a fetus, these same hormones also thicken the lining of the uterus. However, if the egg is not fertilized, the body no longer requires the uterus to be thick, and therefore, the lining breaks down and flows out of your vagina. That's what we experience as a period.

When will I get my period?

While everyone’s experience with menstruation will differ, typically menstruation will begin approximately two years after puberty (i.e. when breasts begin to develop and pubic/body hair begins to grow). Beginning to menstruate any time between ages 8 and 15 is considered to be “normal”, with the average age being 12. 

Are periods painful? 

Periods can be painful, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who menstruates will experience pain. For some, painful periods may be caused by dysmenorrhea - throbbing and/or cramping in the lower abdomen. For others, PMS - or premenstrual syndrome - may be a regular part of menstruation, causing a variety of symptoms from mood swings and fatigue to headaches and diarrhea. Once you begin menstruating more regularly, you will likely be able to get a better sense of how your body reacts to your cycle. At this point if you find you are experiencing pain, we recommend that you speak to your doctor or gynaecologist about potential relief strategies/options. To read more about period pain, read this blog about what period cramps are and why we experience them: Quit Crampin' my Style! The Truth Behind Period Cramps.

How long will my period last? 

While the average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days in total, the average period (length of time you’re actually bleeding) lasts anywhere from two to seven days. 

What products should I have on-hand?

If you’re beginning to menstruate for the first time, you may want to experiment with a few different menstrual product-options to find what best-suits your needs. We recommend having both pads and tampons on-hand! You can also try menstrual cups or period underwear.

The heaviness of your flow (how much you bleed) will determine what size pad or tampon you will need, however, as an early menstruator it is quite common to start out by having a light flow. 

In this case, consider having some panty-liners at your disposal and possibly regular size pads for extra protection if needed. If you wanted to give tampons a try, perhaps try a light/slim tampon, to make insertion a little easier! To learn more about the different menstrual product options, check out our blog: How to Choose the Right Menstrual Product for You

How do I insert a tampon?

The first time use a tampon can be a bit uncomfortable and tricky! We wrote this blog: The Step by Step Guide to Inserting a Tampon to guide you through your first experience.

Why does my tampon hurt?

From vaginal dryness to using the incorrect size tampon to not inserting it deep enough, there are a variety of reasons why inserting a tampon may be uncomfortable if not painful. Check out our blog: 5 Reasons Why Your Tampon May Hurt to learn more. If you experience any discomfort, try using a lubricant to help with insertion. Our Marlow lubricant is water-based and designed to be used specifically with tampons for smoother insertion. It is easy to take on the go and lubricates your tampon in one easy dip.

How much blood will there be?

The heaviness of your flow will vary greatly from person to person. Some may only bleed enough to use a light tampon for their whole period week, while others may need to change their maxi pads and/or super tampons multiple times a day… everyone is different! The only way to find the answer is to get to know your body and your flow. Period blood can also be a variety of different colours - refer to this blog to learn more! 

Does period blood have a smell? 

Menstrual blood can absolutely have a smell, but it doesn’t always. Most often, menstrual blood can have a slightly metallic smell which is completely normal. If, however, you find that your period blood has a fishy or foul smell, we recommend that you visit your doctor or gynaecologist as this may be a sigh of infection. 

Can I go swimming while I’m on my period? 

Yes! You can absolutely swim on your period, as well as play other sports and exercise regularly. Typically most menstruators will use tampons while swimming, as it prevents any blood from leaking into the water. However, there is no harm in swimming while bleeding, tampon or not! Just remember, water does not stop your period - the pressure of the water just slows down your flow.

Getting your period for the first time can be scary as there are so many unknowns. Just remember, there is no such thing as a stupid questions when it comes to your body. The more we openly talk about our fears, concerns, and experiences, the more we can all help each other become more comfortable dealing with menstruation!