Part 1: The Clue guide to getting your period

What will I notice first?

Puberty happens in stages. As your hormones change, your body becomes more “adult” and prepares for the possibility of pregnancy. This process usually lasts about 2–5 years (1). In the years before you get your first period, you’ll first notice changes like the growth of breasts and pubic hair. Most people begin puberty between the ages of 8–13 and start menstruating at 9–15 (1, 2).

Waiting for a first period can be stressful, and it can be difficult to know exactly when your period will start. This first step in guesstimating when you’ll get your first period, is asking your menstruating, biological parent when it happened for them. Beyond that, your body may give you a few signs that can help in making a good guess:

Design by Marta Pucci and Katrin Friedman

Breasts/buds

Changes to your nipples/breasts will likely be the first thing you notice. Most people begin to menstruate 2–3 years after their breasts begin to grow (3). In the beginning, the small bumps on the nipples become raised. The darker area of the nipple may then begin to grow as the breast/nipple area starts to puff out — it might feel like there is a little lump on your chest. This can happen on just one side at first — and can take up to 6 months for the other side to catch up (3). These are called breast buds. And while they usually grow about two years before the period starts, it can take closer to three years if they grow at an early age (around 8 or 9) (4). If your breasts develop later (like at age 13), it can sometimes take less than a year for the period to start (3, 5). The shape and height of your body will also be changing around this time — by the time you notice breast buds, your overall growth has already become faster (5, 6).

Pubic hair

Shortly after breast buds, you may notice your the first signs of pubic hair. It’s estimated about 9 in 10 people experience things in this order (about 1 in 10 people see pubic hair first (6, 3). You may just see a few long hairs in the beginning — your pubic hair will fill in over time. Other changes you may notice around this time are body odor, skin oiliness and acne. Underarm hair often doesn’t begin to grow until around or after menstruation begins (3).

Body shape

Your height, body shape, fat distribution and body composition also begin to change quickly during puberty. It’s normal to notice your clothes size go up as your pelvis gets bigger and your hips widen (7). Your vagina, uterus and ovaries also grow in size as your hormones keep to changing quickly (3). Menstruation usually starts just after the fastest growing period has slowed (after your “peak height velocity”). If you’re tracking your height, you may notice your growth spurt has started to slow — menstruation may be just around the corner (8).

Vaginal/cervical fluid

About 6–12 months before your first period you may notice more fluid in your vagina and on your underwear (3). This fluid is whitish and doesn’t have a smell. It may look a bit yellowish when it dries on your underwear. Fluid changes as your body produces more estrogen and as the healthy bacteria in your vagina grow (your fluid is also becoming more acidic) (3). In the weeks before your first period, you may notice your fluid changing, becoming more milky for a few days, or stretchy like an egg white — this is your cervical fluid (8).

Pube party? Period party?

The arrival of your first period can be anything from empowering to intimidating, depending on the culture you live in and what you’ve been taught. Cultures throughout history have marked the occasion with a celebration or ceremony. If you or someone close to you is excited about beginning to menstruate, you might find a time to celebrate in your own way.

Maybe this means getting together with family members to mark the occasion and share stories, gathering with friends to buy menstrual products, or writing a journal entry. Talking to a trusted person about how it feels and what to expect can also be helpful.

Some people may feel disconnected from their body, or may not know what a menstrual cycle is until starting to menstruate themselves. Getting your period for the first time can cause stress, sadness and sometimes fear. In these times it can be helpful to find a trusted, supportive person to talk to — someone who understands and can offer some help.

The American Congress of Ob/Gyns recommends that anyone who begins to see signs of puberty before turning nine or who hasn’t experienced any signs after reaching 15 should have a check-up with an OB/GYN.

Click here for part 2 of the guide.

Once you start your period Clue can help you track and understand your cycle. Download Clue today.

References

  1. Lee PA: Normal ages of pubertal events among American males and females. J Adolesc Health Care 1:26, 198
  2. Yermachenko A, Dvornyk V. Nongenetic determinants of age at menarche: a systematic review. BioMed research international. 2014 Jun 23;2014.
  3. Rosenfield RL: Puberty and its disorders in girls. Endocrinol Metab Clin N Am 20:15, 1991
  4. McDowell MA, Brody DJ, Hughes JP. Has age at menarche changed? Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999–2004. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2007 Mar 31;40(3):227–31.
  5. Lee PA: Normal ages of pubertal events among American males and females. J Adolesc Health Care 1:26, 198
  6. Parent AS, Teilmann G, Juul A, Skakkebaek NE, Toppari J, Bourguignon JP. The timing of normal puberty and the age limits of sexual precocity: variations around the world, secular trends, and changes after migration. Endocrine reviews. 2003 Oct 1;24(5):668–93.
  7. Völgyi E, Tylavsky FA, Xu L, Lu J, Wang Q, Alén M, Cheng S. Bone and body segment lengthening and widening: a 7-year follow-up study in pubertal girls. Bone. 2010 Oct 31;47(4):773–82.
  8. Tanner JM: The development of the reproductive system. Growth at Adolescence. p 23, Oxford, Blackwell Scientific, 1962