Menstruation - facts and questions

Do you always have mood swings when you have your period?
Some girls and women have PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome - sometimes called PMT or Pre-Menstrual Tension) which could mean that they feel:

* a bit tired or tense,
* a bit weepy, irritable or easily upset
* headachey, maybe a migraine headache
* bloated and full in their tummy (like it's full of air)
for a few days before and at the start of a period.

Not everyone has all these symptoms, and some girls do not have any. Sometimes girls find they have a lot more energy just before their period starts.

These feelings usually do not last for more than a day or so, but if they are bothering you, have a talk to your mother or your doctor, because there are some things you can do which can make a difference to how you feel. (Ask mum to look up "Period" in the Parenting section of the Child and Youth Health web-site for some more information).

Period cramps

Do you get cramps when you get your period?
Many girls get cramping pains in their tummy around the beginning of some of their periods - but not all girls get them. Often the cramps start before you begin to lose blood.

A hot water bottle on the tummy may help to ease cramps. Try relaxation exercises as well as just doing your usual exercise. This might be enough to help. If you have bad cramps, there are some medications that really help, so don't be afraid to tell someone. Talk to your doctor or chemist.

How often do periods come?

Do you always get a period every 28 days?
At first your periods may not be regular, but after a while if you mark the dates on a calendar you should be able to work out when your period is due. It may not be every 28 days, but it is often somewhere between 21 days and about 35 days. It varies quite a bit with different people, and some girls and women never get really regular periods.

It's a good idea to carry a pad or tampons with you when it gets near the time your period is due so that you are prepared. If you start a period unexpectedly, then get a pad from a friend, ask the teacher or go to the first aid room if you are at school.

Remember that it is not something to feel embarrassed about. Every female understands.

What colour is your period when you first start?

Your period loss looks like dark reddish-brown blood when you first start, then it becomes a redder colour. But you are not bleeding as if you have cut yourself. This is just the blood and tissue that your body has prepared in the uterus for a possible baby to ‘nest’ in. Not pregnant? No baby? No tissue needed. So, your body cleans out the unwanted tissue and blood.

How long do periods last?

Some girls have short periods (they last about 3 days) but others have longer ones ( maybe up to a week). Your pattern will usually stay the same once your periods get regular (after about 6 to 12 months). If your period suddenly gets shorter or longer, there may be a health problem. Ask your mother or doctor.

Patterns of periods

Sometimes while I am on a period I stop menstruating one day and start again the next then stop again. Is this okay?

If your period goes for a couple of days, then stops for a little while, starts again and then finally stops this is usually quite normal. It happens this way for many women. However, if you have been sexually active and you have a very short period that does not start again within about a day or so, this might be a sign that you are pregnant.

Pimples and periods

Do you always get pimples when it's your period?
Some people do find that they get more spots around the time their period is due, but everyone is more likely to get pimples during the teenage years because skin gets oilier. Have a look at the information on our ZITS page, for more information about pimples.

Light or heavy periods

How do you know if your period is going to be light or heavy?
Your period may be light (a small flow of blood that lasts a couple of days) or heavy (a bigger flow of blood that soaks your pad more quickly or lasts longer). Sometimes your period can be heavy for the first day or two and then it becomes light till it finishes.

You get most information about what your next period will be like from what happened the time before. Keep track on the calendar of when your periods come and how heavy they are, and you will see the pattern of your periods. It is unlikely that you will have a very heavy period your first time, and many girls do not get heavy periods for several months after they start - some girls and women never have heavy periods. (How heavy your periods are doesn't make any difference when you want to have a baby).

When do periods start?

How will you know when you might be starting periods?

Ask mum when she started her periods, as girls often follow the same pattern as their mothers. Get to know your body. If you can see the changes which mean you are starting puberty (breasts developing or feeling tender, weight gain, getting curvier, hair under arms and in the genital area) have a talk with mum about getting you some pads.

Many girls have their first period about a year after they start having some of the other changes of puberty.

Some girls get a bit of tummy pain for an hour or so for a couple of months before their periods start.

When do periods stop?

When do you stop getting periods?
Women stop getting periods when they are pregnant and when they reach menopause. Menopause (say men-o-paws) just means that menstruation stops. It doesn't stop dead but is a gradual process, where periods become less frequent until they stop altogether, usually around the ages of 45-55.

Stress, going on a strict diet, very heavy exercise and illness can also stop periods for a while.

When can you use tampons?

Do you have to have sex or be older before you are able to use a tampon?
No, you can use a tampon as soon as you start periods if you want to, and if you find it comfortable. It takes a bit of practice at first to be able to get it in comfortably, but if you follow the instructions on the packet it should not be a problem. People used to think that a tampon could not be inserted into the vagina of a girl before she had sexual intercourse because there is a thin membrane, or layer of skin (called the hymen) which is across the opening of the vagina. It doesn't actually go right across; there is a gap for menstrual blood to flow through. Using a tampon would stretch this gap.

Would I still be a virgin if I used tampons?
Yes. Using a tampon makes no difference to your virginity. The meaning of the word 'virgin' is that the person has not had sexual intercourse.

Swimming and periods

Is it OK to wash your hair or go swimming during a period?
Having a period is absolutely normal and there is no reason why you can't go on with your normal activities during a period. You can go on having baths or showers and washing your hair and doing all of the other things that you normally do.

Exercise is good for you during your period (like it is at any other time) but usually people who want to go swimming will find that using a tampon works best, as it does not get wet like a pad would. If you are swimming somewhere that a bit of blood staining the water won't get noticed (eg in the sea) you don't have to wear a pad or tampon while you swim but have a pad handy to slip inside your bathers when you come out if you are not able to change into your clothes right away - (wrapping a towel around you will make sure that no-one notices). Sea or pool water cannot get up through your vagina into the inside of your body. (Note: tampons won't make you better swimmers or athletes, though - whatever some ads may suggest!)


A lot of girls were concerned about having accidents and getting blood on their clothes, sheets of a friend's bed, etc.

Don't panic!
You can ask for help from women or girls around you and you can always use your school jumper (or your friend's) tied around your waist to get you to where you can get some help without being embarrassed. Just as all women have periods, all men know that they do, so if any immature person tries giving you a hard time, you have got every woman around on your side!

Washing blood off clothes
Blood washes off clothes best if cold water is used and you wash the clothes as soon as you can. Hot water makes the blood stay where it is.

Dr Kate Dr Kate says

"Welcome to the sisterhood!"

There are other topics in the Nearly Teens section of this site which you may find helpful, see the related topics section under Feedback in the right margin.

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We've collected this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.