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Period FAQs

This page answers some of the most popular frequently asked questions (FAQs) on periods.

Most people have lots of questions about periods and we hope to answer some of them here.

My First Period

Periods can start at any time between the ages of 8 and 17. For most girls/people with a vagina, their first period will take place between the ages of 10 and 14, but some people won’t start having a period until they are 17. Everyone develops at different rates.

It is important to remember that you can still get pregnant before you have your first period. Some people can release eggs for several months before bleeding starts. As it is impossible to predict when you will first ovulate, having unprotected sex before a first period can sometimes result in a pregnancy.

Don’t panic! You will need to get yourself a sanitary towel, tampon or other type of period product, to absorb the blood. You can buy these in supermarkets, corner shops and chemists, or you can see your school/college nurse or welfare officer, and they should have some for you to use. Toilets in lots of public places often have a towel and/or tampon vending machine. If you can – it is probably a good idea to have a chat with a member of your family about periods and that you will need to have some supplies in – before you start your periods, you can then carry these in your bag just in case.

If you’re buying period supplies, there’s no need to be embarrassed – they’re perfectly normal products, and many millions of people menstruate, after all! You can ask your parents or carers to buy you supplies regularly, too, once you’ve found the product or combination of products that works best for you.

Find out more about different period products.

Your periods will continue until you reach the menopause which is usually around 44-56 years old. This is when your body starts producing less hormones which causes your menstrual cycle to stop.

Your periods should only stop before then if you get pregnant or use some types of hormonal contraception.

It’s normal for your periods to be irregular during the first few years after starting your period but then they should settle down. If you’re still experiencing months where you don’t have a period it’s best to see a doctor. There’s probably nothing wrong but it’s a good idea to check.

It is hard to predict when your period is going to start for the first time. This gets easier with time as you become more aware of how you feel before your period and any PMS symptoms you might have.

Before their period, some people notice a slight change in colour in their discharge – normally a pink or brown colour. Some people also bleed a little to begin with and then more later on.

What happens during your period

You might notice that in the days leading up to your period or during your period you may poo more or have diarrhea. This is completely normal! As your body is preparing to shed the lining of your uterus it produces prostaglandins which cause your uterus to contract but also cause your stool to move quicker through your intestines.

It’s also normal to experience the opposite, constipation.

Focusing on your diet is a great way to help with these symptoms but if this is affecting your ability to go about your daily life, you should speak to your GP to get extra support. It might be that using hormonal contraception might be useful for you.

Yes! Swimming can be a great activity to reduce period cramps and improve your wellbeing on your period. You might be concerned about leaking during your period but there are plenty of options to put your mind at ease – you could use a menstrual cup, a tampon or period swimwear which are designed to prevent leaks. The water pressure may also reduce or temporarily stop your bleeding while in the water so you have less to worry about.

Myth-busting: Swimming in the ocean during your period does not increase your risk of a shark attack!

More about period products

Around three to eight tablespoons of pink, red or brown blood will pass during a period. Although you may feel like it’s much more than this!

Generally a heavy period is if you are changing pads or tampons after 1-2 hours or bleeding for longer than seven days.

If you’re not sure how much blood you lose during a period, using a menstrual cup can help you to get a better idea.

If it is more than three to eight tablespoons then it’s probably nothing to worry about but it is worth talking to your GP, especially if it is affecting your ability to carry out normal daily tasks like going to work or school. Your GP will be able to explore if there is an underlying reason for your heavy periods and give you medication or recommend a contraception method that can stop or reduce your flow.

Menstrual blood is made up of blood, tissue and nutrients. It can be thick or watery and may contain clots. It’s also normal for the colour and consistency to change during your period.

If lumps or clots are larger than 2.5cm (around the size of a 10p coin) then it is a good idea to speak to your GP to check there’s nothing causing this.

Yes! You’ll find that you don’t bleed continuously and can often feel when blood is travelling down your vagina.

Some people don’t like this sensation as it can be distracting and cause more worry about leakages, if this is you, then using tampons or menstrual cups might suit you better than pads and period pants where can often feel the blood.

Most periods are between 1-5 tablespoons of blood. If you’re changing your period product (e.g. tampon or pad) more than every 1-2 hours or have periods lasting longer than seven days, this is known as a heavy period. This isn’t usually a sign that there is anything wrong but may interfere with your daily life so it’s good to talk to a medical professional. It is very rare to bleed more than this, if you are or you’re experiencing light-headedness, dizziness or tiredness, you should see a medical professional as soon as possible.

Hormonal contraception is the best way to control your periods; when you get them and how heavy they are. Some hormonal contraception methods can stop periods entirely. Often people using the combined pill will take the pill continuously in order to avoid getting a period. This might be helpful if you have a holiday or event coming up that you don’t want to be on your period for. Otherwise, you can speak to your GP about getting a medication called norethisterone which can delay your period.

period problems

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

It can be helpful to take a painkiller (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 people 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 before or 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.

If your periods are very heavy, there are several options you can consider.

  1. Change to a higher absorbency – For example if you are using a regular size tampon or pad, you could try switching to super size instead.
  2. Double up – Some people use a tampon/menstrual cup and a sanitary pad or panty liner. This can give you extra reassurance and peace of mind that you will not leak. In a similar way, some people use sanitary pads with period pants. Also, you can get sanitary pads with wings either side, which stick to your knickers, to help keep the pad in place and prevent leakages onto your knickers.
  3. Switch to menstrual cups or period pants – These reusable period products can generally hold more blood than regular pads or tampons. For example menstrual cups can hold five times as much blood as pads or tampons.
  4. Talk to your GP – There might not be nothing wrong but they will also be able to help reduce your flow through contraception or medication.

Leakages can be embarrassing, but everyone who gets a period 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.

There are lots of reasons why your periods might be irregular. Weight loss or gain, stress, and exercising a lot can all make them less regular, and also affect how light or heavy they are.

After you get your period for the first ever time, it can take a while for it to ‘settle down’ into a regular cycle. You might get your first period, then not have another one for the next six months, for example!

If your irregular periods are getting you down, you can talk to a doctor or nurse to get their advice. Your overall physical health and mental health affects your cycle, so it might be that irregular periods are a symptom of something else. Don’t be afraid to try and find out what that is, and to get help if you need it.

If your gender is different to the one given you at birth, you may find periods triggering or uncomfortable. Some trans boys and men don’t mind having periods but for others it can be a distressing time of the month.

Here are some suggestions that might make your experience easier:

  • Some companies sell period boxers 
  • Some period products, like period underwear and menstrual cups, hold more blood meaning they don’t need changing as often 
  • Some contraception methods can stop your period or lighten your flow, but this isn’t advisable if you’re looking at taking, or are currently taking, testosterone

Period Products

Yes, tampons are really safe. There is an association between using tampons and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). However, due to changes in the way tampons are made, 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, and never keeping a tampon in for longer than you need to.

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 might find that putting one leg on a chair or the toilet seat will help you to get the right angle, and make the opening of the vagina easier to access. Some people like to use a small hand held mirror, to help them see where to put the tampon.

You may like to try using a smaller size tampon, as this can make insertion easier. Some people find mini tampons easier to use than regular or super sized tampons – you may like to experiment with different sizes, or tampons with applicators.

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.

Period products can be expensive, especially because they occur every month. If you’re unable to get hold of period products these are some of your options:

  • If you’re in education, your school/college/university may be able to provide you with free products. All schools in England are required to provide free period products, if you haven’t heard about this in your school, you could ask the school nurse, teacher or another member of staff you feel comfortable talking to about it.
  • See if there are any local organisations that provide free period products
  • Use a reusable menstrual cup, period pants or reusable pads that you can clean and reuse for several years

Learn more about free period products

Periods and Sex

That depends if you have had any unprotected sex or contraception failure. Remember, if you have had unprotected sex within the last five days you can use emergency contraception.

If you have had unprotected sex or sexual contact more than five days ago and have missed you period you may need to take a pregnancy test (these can be done 21 days after having unprotected sex or contraception failure). You can get a pregnancy test free of charge from Brook services, some young people’s services, contraceptive clinics, sexual health (GUM) clinics or your GP.

If you haven’t had any unprotected sex or sexual contact, then your period may be late for a variety of reasons. Every 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.

It’s perfectly safe from a health point of view to have sex on your period – although you can still get pregnant as a result! So make sure to use contraception, if you don’t want to get pregnant, and to use condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections. Period sex can sometimes get messy, too, because of the blood – so think about putting down an old towel first to soak up any escaping fluids!

Technically, you are more likely to become pregnant at a certain time of the month, during ovulation, but it’s 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.

Most pregnant women/people don’t get periods. However, if you have noticed that your periods are shorter or lighter than normal this can be a sign of pregnancy. There’s also something called implantation bleeding which can happen during pregnancy – after the egg is fertilised and attaches itself to the womb lining, some bleeding may happen. Sometimes, people mistake implantation bleeding for a period and don’t realise they’re pregnant. Implantation bleeding happens between 6 to 12 days after ovulation, while a period usually starts 10 to 16 days after ovulation, so it’s easy to mistake one for the other. The only way to find out for sure if you’re pregnant is by taking a pregnancy test.

Some methods of contraception can affect your periods and make them more regular, lighter, heavier, or stop altogether. Some nurses and doctors do not refer to periods when you use hormonal contraception however you may hear the doctor or nurse ask you about your ‘bleeding’ pattern. This is because some methods of contraception will stop the ‘period’ but you may still bleed. We’ve included below an overview of the methods of contraception that have an affect on your periods:

  • The combined pill: when taking the combined pill you have a pill-free week, or a week when you are taking the placebo (dummy) pills, and during this week you will get a bleed. This isn’t a proper period, but is called a ‘withdrawal bleed’ (which doesn’t always happen) and is caused by you not taking hormones in the pill-free week. This can happen at any point during this pill-free week, and you should start your next pack on time whether or not you are still bleeding.
  • The progestogen-only pill (POP): your periods may become irregular. They may happen more often, less often, be lighter or stop altogether. You may also get spotting in between periods. This isn’t harmful and may settle down. If you have concerns seek advice. The POP pill can also help with painful periods and premenstrual symptoms.
  • IUD (intrauterine device): you may have irregular bleeding patterns during the first few months of using the IUD. For some women their periods are heavier, longer or more painful. While using the IUD you can use tampons and/or towels.
  • IUS (intrauterine system): your periods are likely to become lighter, shorter or they may stop altogether. If you do get periods while using the IUS you can use tampons and/or towels.
  • The contraceptive patch: at some point during your patch-free week most women will have a bleed. This isn’t a proper period, it is called a ‘withdrawal bleed’ (which doesn’t always happen) and it can start at any point during the seven-day break. This bleeding is brought on by the reduction in hormones, from not wearing a patch during the seven-day break. This can happen at any point during this patch-free week, and you should start using your next patch on time whether or not you are still bleeding.
  • The contraceptive implant: may cause an irregular bleeding pattern, and your periods may be irregular, longer or they may stop all together. This usually settles down after the first year of using the contraceptive implant.
  • The contraceptive injection: may cause an irregular bleeding pattern, and your periods may be irregular, heavier, and longer or they may stop altogether.
  • The contraceptive vaginal ring: at some point during the ring-free week most people will have a bleed. This isn’t a proper period, it is called a ‘withdrawal bleed’ (which doesn’t always happen) and it can start at any point during the seven-day interval. This bleeding is brought on by the reduction in hormones, from not wearing a ring during the seven-day interval. This can happen at any point during this ring-free interval, and you should start using your next ring on time whether or not you are still bleeding. You can use both towels and tampons whilst using the contraceptive vaginal ring.

In the first few months of using contraceptive methods with hormones there can be some breakthrough bleeding or spotting. This should settle down after around three months. However it is also important to check that the bleeding is not due to any other cause, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is recommended that you discuss any concerns that you may have regarding the changes to your bleeding pattern with your nurse or doctor. They will offer you a test for an STI and it might be possible to give some additional medication that can help with the bleeding.

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