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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.
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.
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. Take your time, relax, follow the instructions in the packet, and you should manage fine!
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 when they occur every month. If you’re unable to get hold of period products these are some of your options:
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.
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:
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.
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 people like to use both a tampon and a sanitary pad or panty liner. This can give you extra reassurance and peace of mind that you will not leak. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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