Periods

When will they start? Will they hurt? Will there be lots of blood? Will people be able to tell? Most people have lots of questions about periods and we hope to answer some of them here.

At some point between when she's about 11 and when she's about 17, a girl will start to have periods. This is also known as menstruation. Every month, a woman's body releases an egg (this is called ovulation). If this egg is not fertilised by a sperm, it is shed through the vagina along with the lining of the womb, and this is what period blood is. This bleeding will usually last for 2-7 days.

We have listed some of the most common questions about periods below, but if you have any questions that aren't answered here, you can call Ask Brook on 0808 802 1234 for more information. Your call will be confidential. That means we won't tell anyone about it.

How often should a period happen?
What is ovulation?
What is the menstrual cycle?
I'm the only one of my friends who hasn't started her periods yet, what's wrong with me?
I've just started my period and I don't know what to do!
Is it safe to use tampons?
I want to use tampons but I can't put them in
How often do you have to change your tampon?
What is period blood meant to look like and how much will I bleed?
I keep leaking, what should I do?
What can I do about period pain?
Is it OK to have sex when I have my period?
I haven't had a period for two months, could I be pregnant?
I think I'm pregnant but I'm still having a period, what does that mean? 

How often should a period happen?

Most women get a period every four to five weeks. You may like to keep a diary of how often you get yours. Some women have regular periods, which mean they can predict exactly when their next period is due. Other women have irregular periods, which mean they cannot predict when their next period is due. If you are worried about your periods, you can speak to a doctor or nurse. 

What is ovulation?

A woman's ovaries release an egg (sometimes two) around 14 days after the first day of her period, or 10-16 days before the start of her next period. Once released, the egg lives for around 24 hours. If it is not fertilised, it is shed via a period. 

What is a menstrual cycle?

A woman's menstrual cycle starts on the first day of her period. Another cycle starts on the first day of her next period.

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but it can be a bit longer or shorter.  

I'm the only one out of my friends who hasn't started their period. What's wrong with me?

Periods can start at any time between the ages of 8 and 17. Most young women will start their first period between the ages of 10 and 14, but some won't start until they are 17. Everyone develops at different rates. To reassure you, you will get your period at some point. Meanwhile, you can enjoy not having to use tampons and sanitary towels!

It is important to remember that a woman can still get pregnant before she has her first period. Some young women can release eggs for several months before bleeding starts. As it is impossible to predict when a woman will first ovulate, having unprotected sex before a first period can sometimes result in a pregnancy. 

I've just started my period and I don't know what to do!

You will need to get yourself a sanitary towel, or a tampon, to absorb the blood. You can buy these in supermarkets and chemists, or you can see your school/college nurse or welfare officer, and they should have some for you to use. Or you can ask if any women around you have a spare tampon or pad in their bag, which they could give to you. It's important not to panic, the fact that you have started your periods is perfectly normal, and a sign that your body is going through puberty. 

Is it safe to use tampons?

Yes, tampons are really safe. There is an association between using tampons and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). However, due to changes in the manufacture of tampons, TSS is extremely rare nowadays. All tampon packets should contain a leaflet that tells you the warning signs of TSS, and what to do if you notice these symptoms. The risk of getting TSS can be reduced by using tampons with the lowest absorbency necessary for your blood flow. 

I've tried to use tampons, but I can't put one in

The most important thing is to relax as much as you can. If you are feeling tense, nervous, or anxious about using a tampon, this can make it difficult or uncomfortable to insert a tampon into the vagina. The key is to take deep breaths and relax!

There should be an instruction leaflet in the packet, which shows you how to insert a tampon at a certain angle, so that it goes in comfortably.

You may like to try using a smaller size tampon, as this can make insertion easier. Some young women find mini tampons easier to use than regular or super sized tampons, you may like to experiment with different sizes. Take your time, relax, follow the instructions in the packet, and you should manage fine!

Some women like to use a small hand held mirror, to help them see where to put the tampon. 

How often do I need to change my tampon?

It is important to use a tampon that is the right absorbency for you. Always choose a tampon with the lowest absorbency necessary for your blood flow.

If your tampon leaks, then you have either left it in too long, or you need to try a higher absorbency. If your tampon doesn't come out easily, or it feels uncomfortable when you pull it out, this can mean that it hasn't soaked enough blood yet, so leave it in a bit longer. If your tampon is still difficult to remove after four to six hours, switch to using a lower absorbency tampon.

Aim to take a tampon out every four to six hours, depending on your flow. It is safe to wear a tampon overnight, but it's important to take it out as soon as you wake up in the morning. 

What is period blood supposed to look like and how much comes out?

Period blood can be any colour from pink to red to brown. Sometimes period blood can be quite thick and other times it can be watery. This is all normal and you may notice your blood looks different at the start and end of your period.

When you get a period, it's normal for the bleeding to stop and start. For example, you may bleed for a few hours, and then stop bleeding for a few hours. Or you may stop bleeding all through the night, or all through one day, but then it will start again. This is perfectly normal. 

I keep leaking, what can I do?

If your periods are very heavy, you may like to try using a higher absorbency sanitary towel or tampon. For example, if you are using a regular size tampon or pad, you could try switching to super size instead. Some women like to use both a tampon and a sanitary towel or panty liner. This can give you extra reassurance and peace of mind that you will not leak. Also, you can get sanitary towels with wings either side, which stick to your knickers, to help keep the pad in place and prevent leakages onto your knickers.

Leakages can be embarrassing, but every girl and woman will have experienced this at some point. It can take time to try out different things but, to reassure you, with experience you will get confident in knowing how to manage your periods better so you don't get any more leakages. 

I get really bad pain during my period. What should I do?

Unfortunately, a lot of women do experience cramp-like pains in their lower stomach when they have their period. This is caused by the womb muscles contracting. Some women also get back pain, or pain down their legs, and some women can feel sick.

It can be helpful to take a pain killer (such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin) as soon as you start to notice any pain, so that you can get the pain under control before it gets too bad. Be sure to always follow the instructions about how many painkillers you can take within a certain period of time, as it is possible to overdose even if you take one tablet too many.

Some women find that putting a hot water bottle on their stomach, having a hot bath, or going for a brisk walk, can ease the pain.

If you find that you are in a lot of pain during your period, and nothing seems to ease it, it is important that you speak to a doctor or nurse, to check that everything is OK, and get advice on how to manage the pain. 

Is it safe to have sex on my period?

It's completely fine to have sex when you're on your period if you want to but it's never safe to have unprotected sex if you want to avoid unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

Even if a woman has sex during her period, there is still a risk of pregnancy. Technically, a woman is more likely to become pregnant at a certain time of the month, during ovulation.

However, it is impossible to tell when you will next ovulate. This is because your menstrual cycle can vary from month to month. Also, sperm can live in your body for up to seven days, which means it is high risk to have unprotected sex up to seven days before ovulation. Always use a method of contraception, even when you are on your period. 

I haven't had a period for two months now. Could I be pregnant?

There is a chance of pregnancy if sperm has come into contact with your vagina in any way. So, if you have had any unprotected sex or sexual contact recently then you might need to take emergency contraception or pregnancy test.

If you haven't had any unprotected sex or sexual contact, then your period may be late for a variety of reasons. Every woman's menstrual cycle can change from month to month. A change in diet, ill health, travel, and stress are just some of the things that can make a period come late, or not at all. 

I think I might be pregnant, but I'm still getting my periods.

Most women don't get periods when they're pregnant. However, if you have noticed that your periods are shorter or lighter than normal this can be a sign of pregnancy. The only way to find out for sure is by taking a pregnancy test.

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