In recent years, we’ve come pretty far in terms of chipping away at centuries-old stigma attached to menstruation - that it’s unclean, embarrassing and should be kept behind closed doors.
International Menstrual Hygiene Day has been up and running for over six years and in 2019 Australia aired its first-ever TV ad that featured actual red period blood.
The Libra ‘#bloodnormal’ commercial, which showed a young girl removing a stained pad from her underwear, attracted hundreds of complaints — encouragingly, all were dismissed by the Ad Standards board.
While the curtain is being pulled back on periods in the media, for parents and carers of young girls broaching the subject of menstruation can still be daunting. So, how and when do you start having ‘the chat’?
Not only that but should it always be the mum’s responsibility to educate their daughter or should dads or sons be included, too? And what are the do’s and dont’s to make sure that you’re covering all the key information without things getting too overwhelming for everyone involved?
As ‘Chief of Menstrual Matters’ at menstrual cup brand Lunette and co-founder of the Sustainable Period Project, Carol Morris is more than qualified to offer some much-needed advice.
The good news is that mums, dads and carers have the opportunity to continue to reshape the narrative around menstruation for the next generation in what Carol is coining the era of ‘period positivity’.
“This is about changing attitudes towards periods, which have traditionally been seen as shameful, dirty, and something to be secretive about,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“Menstruating is a natural and healthy process, and something to be embraced and spoken about like you would any other bodily or health function, with no stigma or negative attitudes attached.”
Below, Carol answers some common questions about guiding girls and young women through an important stage in their lives.
(In the interest of inclusivity, it’s important to note that a person doesn’t have to identify as female to have a period.)
When to start having the ‘period chat’
This really needs to start with our tweens and be discussed with both girls and boys — remember that boys turn into boyfriends, husbands and fathers. The subject of menstruation should be spoken about in a light, matter-of-fact manner, and can be casually added into little conversations to build on the puberty talk. This is great for normalising attitudes towards periods and their changing body.
Just a job for mums?
Traditionally it has been the mum or other female figure having the ‘chat’, but with changing family structures a lot of dads are left tackling the subject. There are heaps of resources out there to help blokes navigate the period talk in a confident manner.
But just remember that to a tween us adults know nothing of value, and especially a dad talking about period! Keep it light with a degree of sensitivity, and with no preconceived attitudes or judgements.
Why boys need to be included
Boys and sons all need to be encouraged to have an attitude of ‘period positivity’ as well. Unless they are on a deserted island, they will definitely come in contact with the opposite sex. And since one in every seven women they come across will be on their period, it is good to develop these healthy attitudes early.
Avoiding info overload
We’ve found that covering topics in the following order seems to slowly ‘build up’ the period and puberty knowledge without bombarding them with too much information that may freak them out.
Start with the health body hygiene talk: daily showers, where to wash. Then talk about what periods are, how the lining is shed every month when the egg isn’t fertilised. Then you could talk about the light discharge your tween will get when their body is preparing to ovulate — this can happen three to 12 months before their actual ‘blood period’.
This is a good time to bring up mood changes and symptoms and how they can change with the changing hormones. Then show them different period products and see which ones they’d like to start with. Finally, sit down and make a ‘first period’ kit, in a little makeup bag or similar. One for home and one for school. It should contain a spare pair of underpants, a pad (disposable or cloth) or period underwear. Talk about how to use each product and what they would do if they got their first period when at school or a friend’s place. Have them practice over their clothes.
I think it depends on the maturity and curiosity of the tween when it comes to diving into discussions about women’s health issues such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
If they’ve grasped the whole ovulation, oestrogen and progesterone cycling, mood changes information, then other discussions can build from this. Once the tween starts menstruating it can take a good few cycles for her body to develop a regular cycle. The first important thing she should track is her flow — any clots, does it flow slowly or in gushes, heavy days or light days, and how much (in terms of teaspoons). Let them settle into their monthly cycles first before starting more detailed topics.
Periods at school
You can talk about how you deal with periods on holiday or at work, then see how they would like to manage it at school, and any extra tips they could add in; tweens and teenagers love thinking they know more than mum! Also ask what kind of periods and symptoms their friends have, as this encourages peer discussions and it is great when you hear that periods are being openly discussed in a positive environment.
A great tip is to have them put a spare pair of underpants and sanitary items for their mates ‘just in case.’ When I was 13 years old I thought my period had finished so I went to school with just a panty shield and then had a ‘gush’ that leaked everywhere... I’m forever grateful to my friend whose mum had made her put a ‘mates pack’ in her school bag.
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