Everything begins with puberty. Puberty is the period in which your body is changing as you move from kid to adult. It affects boys and girls in different ways. In short, girls will see hairs, breast appearing and period starting. But it is a bit more complex than that.
HOW DO I KNOW PUBERTY HAS STARTED?
They are several physical and emotional signs that can help you identify if puberty has started.
For the physical signs, you can look out for the following:
- Hairs: Most of girls will see hairs appearing between the age of 10 and 11 on their pubis. A year after, hairs on armpits appear too.
- Breasts: At the similar time as pubic hair appears, you can feel that a small ball has starting to grow on your breast. It will become bigger and bigger every day. It might hurt when touched without paying attention. The development of breast generally stops by the time you turn 17.
- Body shape: with puberty, the shape of the body also starts changing. Smaller waist, larger hips and the shape of your vulva will shape: the inner labia will become smaller that the outer ones or the other way around and their color will turn darker.
Emotions also change. Puberty, with the help of Estrogens, are helping to evolve from having feelings of a girl to having feelings of a woman. Some new feelings will slowly appear like love, desire, great happiness and sadness. It will take some time to adjust but trust yourself, you will go through it and feel good about yourself.
And what about your uterus?
When your puberty starts, your friends the Estrogens arrive in your Uterus. They will help your uterus change and evolve to be ready for your first menstruation. In the meantime, you might see what we call the cervical mucus. When you wipe your vulva with toilet paper, you might see a whitish or transparent mucus. It is the sign that your uterus is being prepared to receive your 1st menstruation and that your ovary and egg are growing.
So, do not worry, if your white discharge are not itchy nor smelly nor burning and come and go, it is perfectly normal, they are the cervical mucus.
MY 1ST PERIOD
When your body will want to show you that it is ready to carry life, you will have your menarche. They are what everybody considers your 1st period. They can occur between 11 and 16 years old.
When it will happen, you will know it. It can go from just a few brown spots on the toilet paper to a light flow of blood. If you want to be prepared, you can have in your school bag a small toilet bag with a fresh pair of underwear, maybe some wipes and a pad.
If you do not have any pad on you, you can always ask one of your close friends to assist you with one. If you have stained your trousers, you can always tie a jersey around your waist to hide it until you get home.
It is a very special day that is remembered for life. So, treat yourself on your special day.
WHAT IS IN MY BLOOD
Menstrual blood is made out of blood, mucus, vaginal secretions, water, organic tissues from the endometria and a non fecundated egg.
As a consequence, it contains protein, cholesterol, bilirubin…
It also contains an enormous number of bacteria (the good ones) that preserves the equilibrium of the vaginal flora and prevent the vagina or the uterus to catch infections.
Menstrual blood PH is the same as the one of blood. The only difference is that it does not coagulate unlike the blood in our veins. It can dry but cannot coagulate i.e. make a croute that allows the healing process and goes away by itself
WHICH PERIOD PRODUCT SHOULD I USE
It exists a few options that you can use : tampons, pads, natural sponge menstrual underwear, single use menstrual cups, reusable menstrual cups… and hundreds of brands that you can try to see what really fits.
Some women have even started to free bleeding i.e. they go to the toilet as soon as they feel that the blood is ready to come out like they would do for pipi. Make sure you are already fully comfortable with your period before you try this, and do it at home.
What is important is that you try and use what makes you comfortable. Nobody should force you to use something you do not want to.
The most important here is to respect yourself.
And what about the pantyliners? When you period is over, your vagina and vulva need to breathe. Most of the pantyliners are made out of plastic and are really not necessary. If you feel more comfortable to wear one when you have some vaginal discharges, make sure it is 100% cotton. You can also use a washable alternative. Otherwise, washing yourself with a gentle soap and changing underwear every day is more than enough.
WHY DO WE BLEED
In order to understand why you bleed, you need to know how your menstrual cycle works.
It is made out of 3 phases :
- Follicular phase (Day 1 to 14) : From the 1st to the 5th day of this phase, you are on your period. It is how your cycle start, when you body is evacuating what is not needed as you are not pregnant. Once your period are over, your body will start preparing to receive a fecundated egg. To do so, your uterine lining starts to grow, your cervix is opening and cervical mucus is being produced and an egg is chosen.
- Ovulation phase ( Day 14) : Once the chosen egg at maturity, it is released into the fallopian tube.
- Luteal phase (Day 14 to 28) : For a week, the progesterone is preparing the arrival of the fecundated egg. It closes the cervix and stop the production of cervical mucus. After a few days and without the arrival of an embryo, progesterone leaves and period start.
HOW TO KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING DURING MY CYCLE
One of the other very interesting way to understand your cycle is to keep a diary. You can write down how your body is changing through your cycle, when you had cervical mucus and what was its consistency or quantity as well as when you have your period, how long it last and how you felt. Writing about the changes of your body through the cycle, your mood, your sleep can be a very good idea.
Some great app can also be used to help you track your cycle and understand yourself better.
After a few menstrual cycle, you will be able to identify any changes.
CAN MY CYCLE CHANGE FROM ONE MONTH TO THE OTHER?
Some girls and women have the same cycle no matter what happens in their life. For others, it can be very different, and their cycle can change from month to the other. In fact, a few things can impact your menstrual cycle: stress, intensive practice of sport, travel,…
When you first have your period, your menstrual cycle might also need some time to become more regular. It can happen that you have your menarche and that you spend several months without having your period. However, be careful if you had penetrative sex.
WHEN CAN I FALL PREGNANT?
Fertility is the combination of the spermatozoid, the cervical mucus and the egg. A spermatozoid can live between 3 to 5 days in your uterus while your egg will only survive one day.
In short, a woman can fall pregnant 5 days before she ovulates and the day of the ovulation. This means during a total of 6 days.
If you now understand your cycle well (lien vers la partie sur le cycle), you know how long your cycle last and when is your ovulation starting.
Some guidelines :
- If you have a regular cycle of 28 days, you will ovulate on the 14th day of you menstrual cycle
- If you have a regular cycle of 24 days, you will ovulate on the 11th day of your menstrual cycle. In this particular case, you are probably fertile as soon as your period finishes.
- If you have a regular cycle of 35 days, you will ovulate on the 23rd day of your menstrual cycle
- If you have a regular cycle of 42 days, you will ovulate on the 29th day of your menstrual cycle
In some cases where your cycle lasts longer, women tend to think that their body has ‘jumped’ one cycle and that they are not fertile any more. That is not the case, your body is just taking longer to finish its cycle.
CAN I FALL PREGNANT WHEN I HAVE MY PERIOD?
Yes, a woman can even fall pregnant during her period. This can happen if your menstrual cycle is very short and the ovulation has happened much earlier.
It can also happen that spotting that can happen around the ovulation are misbelieved as being period. Only women that watch their body can see and understand the difference between the two.
CAN I FALL PREGNANT BEFORE MY 1ST PERIOD?
In theory, yes. An ovulation may occur 2 weeks before you 1st period. The ovule can then be fecundated.
WHAT ARE THE METHOD TO AVOID PREGNANCY
It exists several methods to avoid pregnancy :
- Long-acting reversible contraception. They last for a long time and you do not need to remember it every day or every month. The main 2 types are:
- The Intra uterine device (IUD) with or without hormones. They can last for 5 years.
- The implant that is put under the skin inside your arm. It can last for 5 years.
- Hormonal contraception. They use hormones to prevent pregnancy and have to be taken over a regular period
- The pill. It has to be taken everyday to ensure its efficiency
- The injection. It has to be done by a doctor every 12 weeks.
- Barrier methods : the condoms. It is the only contraceptive that also protects from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Emergency contraception : the emergency contraceptive pill. It can be taken up to 3 days after unprotected sex. It should be taken if the other contraceptive methods have failed (condom splits, vomiting after taking the pill…) and only as an emergency method.
- Permanent contraception. It is a surgery to prevent pregnancy. Vasectomy or tubal ligation is very difficult or impossible to revert.
Ask a doctor to take you through all the different type of contraceptive so you can make your decision fully aware of what is available and how it affects your body.
Your doctor visits
All the information on menstruation provided above are a guidance. As good as it can be to understand your body, you might need to see a doctor.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR?
Any strong signs of anomaly is a sign from your body to you that something is not working properly. You need to sign your doctor if:
- If your menstrual cycle is changing too often,
- If is shorter than 14 days
- If your period lasts more than 7 days
- if you do not have your period for 3 months, despite not being pregnant
- Any abnormal pain
If you have no issue or irregularities, it is still important to visit your gynecologist once a year.
WHAT IS ENDOMETRIOSIS
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrial stroma and glands which should be located inside the uterus) is found elsewhere in the body.
It affects 1 woman out of 10. Because of the taboos linked to menstruation, most of the women never heard of it. The symptoms might be one of the following ones:
- Pain: during sexual intercourse, in the lower abdomen, lower back, pelvis, rectum, vagina or while defecating
- Menstrual irregularities: heavy, painful or irregular
- Infertility: for up to 40% of the women affected
It can only be diagnosed by a doctor and in some cases take up to 10 years to be diagnosed as such. If you have any of those symptoms, contact your doctor.
A lot of myths and misconceptions around this disease still exist. If you, or someone you care about has been diagnosed, it is important to research the disease as much as possible to be able to understand the management of pain.
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