Not too long ago I was cornered by one of my best friends and the subject took me a bit by surprise. He wanted to know how to handle his daughter’s first period.
I’m sure most fathers cringe a little at the thought of not only having to discuss the birds and the bees with their daughters, but also answering questions about menstruation. And since my friend is also gay, he worries that in a male-dominated household his little girl will be left in the dark when her body begins to change.
How can I help her? What do I say? I don’t know anything about this!
I admit that I had taken it for granted that I will be able to pass my knowledge on to my own daughter (as well as maybe my friend’s daughter). I tried to reassure him. We all had health class. Most people have female family members and friends who can help. But he still felt really worried that he’d flunk his way through this important milestone in his daughter’s life.
This got me thinking: We need to help the dads out there! So, what follows is some basics that have served me well. After all, there’s no reason why a dad can’t be the one to talk about menstruation! (*And I am going to assume that you have a general background on female anatomy and menstruation. For some basics go here.)
- To me the most important thing is to make your daughter feel comfortable talking about menstruation, her body and what she is feeling. Many recommend talking to girls well before menstruation begins in order to start a dialogue about what is going to happen and to help her feel comfortable coming to you for advice and help.
- Be factual and age-appropriate. This is one area where brevity might be appreciated for you and her. (But be sure to allow her space to ask any questions she wants.)
- It’s impossible to know when the first period might happen so it will help to be prepared with supplies before-hand: buy a small quantity of tampons, pads and panty liners (no sense going overboard because you won’t know what works for her until she has had a chance to try a few things); make sure you have a heating pad; have some pain reliever handy. Some girls have cramping, headaches, back aches, vomiting, and/or upset stomach during their first periods, so you might want to prepare for that, too.
- Another area to be prepared might be to pack a discreet bag (makeup bags work great for this) that she can keep in her backpack, locker or even your car. If something happens when she’s at school (to her or a friend), she’ll have at least a small ration of supplies to handle it. (An example of this might be to put 1-2 pads/tampons and 1-2 liners in a small bag to carry in a backpack. You could also add to this 2 ibuprofen and a pair of clean underwear. Just remember you don’t want the emergency pack to become cumbersome.)
- Chances are, the first time she has a period she won’t realize it is happening until there’s evidence (on clothes, in the bed, in the toilet). This can be really embarrassing. Try to reassure her that it’s not her fault and that what is happening is natural. After all, sheets are just sheets. Clothes can be replaced. No big deal! (PS: I have had good success with Shout as a stain remover.)
- In the beginning, periods tend to be erratic and not predictable. This is normal. A girl could have one period and then not have another one for several months. Or, she could have two in one month. And the duration can be totally unpredictable, too. One day. One week. Anything’s possible.
- Over time, you can chart each period and you may see a pattern. But you might not. One friend of mine in her 30s still never knows when hers will show up. She just knows to carry supplies at all times. Another friend of mine gets hers like clockwork. So, it’s important to recognize that “normal” is subjective. It’s all about her “normal.”
- Be cool when your daughter asks you to go to the store and buy her supplies. Don’t act grossed out or like it’s the worst chore in the world. Believe me, she’d rather not be having her period. And she really would rather not have to go to you to buy her products. And by all means PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT SHE ASKS FOR. There’s nothing worse than asking your dad to get you some tampons and he brings back the wrong ones!
- On the subject of supplies: Be aware that not all products are the same. In fact, there’s a lot of difference between brands. Think of it like soda. Coke is not Pepsi. Mr. Pibb is not Dr. Pepper. And these differences may matter a great deal to your girl. Some products have perfumes and dyes that can irritate. Some are wider or thinner than others. Some absorb more than others. Unfortunately, she won’t know what’s best until she tries a few. But once she figures out what works for her, that’s the one she’ll want.
- The skinny on supplies: Here’s some info on tampons, pads and panty liners. Here’s some on reusable pads/menstrual cups (although these might be a bit overwhelming for a beginner). And here’s a good post about the myths against reusable pads.
- And speaking of panty liners: Be careful how much they are used. You do not need to use them every day. In fact, using a panty liner, pad or tampon every day can cause problems. Primarily, liners are for when there might be light spotting or to back up a tampon. One of the things that will happen as a girl starts menses is that she may (or may not) have other discharge that is normal to her cycle. Some girls and women have clear/white mucus discharge when they are ovulating or other times during a cycle. This is totally normal. It will not ruin underwear. And wearing a liner all-cycle-long can actually trap that moisture and keep it next to the skin longer than necessary, which could result in rashes or yeast infections.
- Never douche! Never! It totally disrupts the pH of the vagina. And this can actually make it easier for bacteria and/or yeast to grow and cause infections. The only time to ever douche is if your doctor has advised to do so.
- Your daughter may worry that she smells. Sigh. This is a tough one. Do humans emit odors? Yes. Are there any odors related to menstruation? Well, yes. But more importantly: Are they odors that anyone else can even smell? No! There would have to be an enormous amount of bleeding for anyone to even know a girl is menstruating. It is important to make sure she knows that she does not smell bad when she is having her period. And most important of all: NEVER USE FEMININE ODOR SPRAYS. Like douching, these can be really bad for the health of her vagina. It doesn’t need an air freshner!
- There are some natural remedies that can help lessen the irritation or pain of a period. Taking Evening Primrose oil supplements is supposed to be good for PMS. I’ve also seen information on calcium supplements. These must be taken throughout the cycle to have the desired benefit during PMS/menstruation. Here are some other possible remedies.
- Relax! Millions of women (and their fathers) have survived the onset of menstruation! No matter what happens, you’ll figure it out together.
And everyone, please chip in tips and suggestions that work, too!