As a parent, you have an important influence on shaping your child’s relationship with her body. We’re here to help you make it a positive one, starting from the very first blood.
By Charlotte Amrouche for the Menstrual Health Hub (MH Hub)
Periods are having a moment. Activists, educators, researchers, policy makers, innovators — everyone is talking about periods!
It may seem like we as a society are making up for decades of silence about menstruation — free-bleeding to protest the menstrual taboo, using menstrual tracking apps, learning how to seed cycle. Despite the noticeable rise in menstruation-related news, on an individual level, we are not always 100% sure how to prepare for our daughters’ first periods.
This blog post is here to change that!
Having a talk is the best support you can offer
The first blood — also called menarche (men-ar-key)— marks a important change and is often something that is remembered for the rest of a menstruating person’s life.
In many cultures, menarche is celebrated, in which the whole family or community gets together to celebrate the arrival of the first blood. In the US, so-called ‘period parties’ are increasingly being thrown in an aim to break the taboo of menstruation and to make the menarche a comfortable and positive experience for their child.
At the Menstrual Health Hub, we welcome creative ways to shine a positive light on menstruation along with the important talk you ought to have. The most important part of this whole effort is the opportunity to have conversations together about the menstrual cycle as a whole.
We strongly believe that having informed conversations with your child about menstruation before the onset of their first period can be empowering for both you and your child, and can help your child navigate through the big changes that are about to take place in their body — from going through the basics of biology to addressing the often-overlooked aspects of (dis)comfort, feelings and the vast selection of menstrual materials.
We recommend putting a couple of books, comics or games in the period package as a starting point to get the conversation going — check out the MH Hub Education & Learning Hive for inspiration! Firstperiod.org is a great first place to start!
How you tackle this significant moment in your child’s life can really make all the difference! To help you prepare, we have put together a guide for all you parents (Dads included!) on what a young menstruator needs before starting their period.
You never know when it will come — so be prepared!
To help us create this guide, we talked to Laurie Reinke from Birth in Berlin, who holds workshops on menarche. She compares the first blood to a rite of passage characterized by an individual leaving one group in society to join another. In the case of menarche, the blood signals the body’s ability to become pregnant, which is often linked with woman-/adulthood. Hence, it’s important to support and acknowledge what your child is going through at this crucial time in their life!
One of the ways to do so is by putting together a special box of things for your child to use when their first period arrives. In preparing for her own daughter’s menarche, Laurie Reinke created a box which included a camomile bath, reusable pads + a pad holder, period pyjamas, reusable period underwear, a cool pack for the head, a menstrual cup (there are so many now!), essential oils for pain relief, magnesium tablets and pain killers.
The menarche box can also help you start a conversation with your child about what menstruation is and how it can affect their body and mood. Laurie Reinke explains that it is a good idea to present the box to your child before their first period.
Another great tip comes from sex educator Cath Hakanson who shows us how to make a period pack that can be carried in a school bag. This includes not just a pad but all the other essentials they might need if they get their first period while out and about.
How to make your own Menarche Box & Portable Period Pack
With the help of Laurie Reinke, we’ve compiled a list of suggestions of what to put in your child’s menarche box and portable period pack. We emphasize that the items listed are suggestions as we acknowledge that no two periods are the same — we encourage every parent to be open and create a one-of-a-kind box and/or pack for their child’s personality and needs.
For the Portable Period Pack:
A set of essentials to carry on-the-go might include:
- Pads (disposable and/or reusable)
- Spare underwear
- A plastic bag for disposal (unfortunately some schools don’t have bins in the bathrooms)
For the Menarche Box:
A menarche box to keep at home filled with options and treats to make the first blood a comfortable experience could include a variety of menstrual materials, such as:
- Pads in different sizes (disposable and/or reusable)
- Period underwear (period underwear is basically underwear with built-in pads that soak up blood. Check out these from Lunapads)
- Organic tampons
- Panty liners for light days and/or to use with a tampon or menstrual cup
- A menstrual cup (several companies now have a mini-option which is recommended for first-time users)
The idea of having several different materials in one box is to give your child the opportunity to find what feels best for them. Be sure to chat with them about how to use all of the materials, how long to use them, how to wash the products if they’re reusable, and where to throw them away if they’re disposable. ‘Bin it don’t flush it!’ might seem obvious to you but your child might not know that (yet).
Extra tips for making your child’s first period as comfortable as possible
If you’ve had a period you most likely know they can be painful and uncomfortable, or if you haven’t you’ve probably seen someone experiencing menstrual pain. So, don’t forget the pain management options when picking out items for your child’s menarche box.
Our suggestions include:
- Hot water bottle
- Magnesium tablets (magnesium has been proven to ease period pain by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus and reducing prostaglandins that cause menstrual pain. According to the science, they can also be used as a treatment for PMS)
- Heat strips/adhesives
- Cool pack
- Painkillers, if needed
Other things to ease discomfort could be treats such as:
- Period pyjamas, comfy, soft and with a loose waist!
- Essential oils (some options include lavender, rose, clove, ylang-ylang and peppermint)
- Delicious herbal teas
- Relaxing bath products with low-to-no chemical contents
- Chocolate — the darker the better!
In addition to having access to a variety of different options to help manage the menstrual bleeding and potential discomfort, having a ‘period-friendly toilet’ at home (as well as at school and in public) is critical to enabling girls to feel comfortable, safe and dignified. This includes a locked door, water and soap, good lighting, a dust bin or appropriate disposal, mirrors and a shelf (or something to put materials on, such as a chair). The space should be suited to their needs if they have a physical disability, and of course the toilet should be clean!
Be open and let your child decide what’s best for them
At the MH Hub, we’re all about informed choice, not least when it comes to choosing what menstrual materials to use. We therefore highly encourage you as a parent to take a similar approach when introducing your child to the many options available on the market.
If you need more information on the vulva/vagina, menstruation or menstrual materials, we recommend you visit Pussypedia, a brilliant body-positive resource packed with knowledge about the female body. Remember, using both images of the internal reproductive system and the external genitals helps children understand their bodies better. Menstrual blood comes from the vagina, depicted here between the urethra and the anus. Educational depictions like this one below of female genitalia should not be censored and are not pornographic.
Also, remember that while menstrual cups and tampons are used internally, they do NOT affect your child’s virginity and are therefore safe for use!
As the menstrual movement flourishes, we have more options than ever for our periods. Everyone has such a different experience of menstruation and happily it’s no longer a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to period products.
Make sure your child knows about all the available options and trust that presenting your child with the right information will lead them to make the best decision for them. Children deserve choices in how they learn to live with, and potentially, enjoy their period. Let their first period be an opportunity to make decisions for their own body!
PS: We would LOVE to see the period packages and boxes that you create for your daughter, send us your pictures!
*We use the word female to denote the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova). At the MH Hub, the term female health is used to capture the experiences related to the presence of the menstrual cycle and the specific health issues an individual may face over their life cycle as a result. We recognize that not all women menstruate, and not all who menstruate identify with being a woman, and strongly advocate for the inclusion of diverse voices, identities and bodies in discussions around female and menstrual health.
Charlotte Amrouche is the Education & Learning Fellow at the Menstrual Health Hub. Charlotte is currently researching historic and contemporary cases of menstrual activism in Ireland and the UK. Last year she launched a project called MÍOSTA dedicated to bringing empowering, shame smashing menstrual education to universities and communities around Ireland. You can connect with Charlotte on Instagram.