Written by Clementine Sagar Scott.
When will I get my first period?
If you’ve recently begun puberty, you might be wondering when your first period might be. Menarche (the technical term for your first period) can come at any age between around eight and around 16, and typically around two years after you first start puberty. In this article, we discuss factors which might affect when menarche comes for you, and how you can be best prepared for this important event.
What age am I likely to start my period?
You might observe from talking to older relatives about their periods that the age of menarche has got younger in the last few decades. An American study from 1995 observed that the average age nationwide of menarche was 13, compared to 16.5 in 1840. In 2010, the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) demonstrated through a sample of 81,000 British women that the age of menarche had slightly reduced, to 12.7. Though the age of menarche is levelling off, there is research demonstrating that earlier signs of puberty, such as the development of breasts, are coming at a younger age. Since your period typically will come after two years of puberty, if you develop breasts earlier, your period might also come earlier.
While most people would thus appear to start their periods when they’re around 12 or 13, there’s still a significant percentage who are younger — five percent of ICR study participants got their period at 10 or younger, and ten percent at 15 or older. Whether you start your period at a younger age might depend on when your family members began puberty. A study of “precocious puberty” (developing secondary sex characteristics before the age of 8) showed that 47.8% of girls with the condition also had a parent, usually a mother, who experienced precocious puberty.
Your ethnicity, height and weight also might affect menarche. The ICR found that a “non-white girl who was heavier and taller than her peers at age seven” could start her period two years earlier than her white counterparts of average height and weight. So basically – it depends, and there is no hard and fast rule to guide you!
What is a period?
Your period is the monthly shedding of the lining in your womb, which prepares your womb for pregnancy. This shedding results in bleeding every month, usually for about five days, though this can also vary. Especially in the first two years after menarche, it’s normal to skip periods or have them more or less often than once a month. This is completely normal, though later in life, irregularity can also be caused by illness, stress, or even travelling somewhere new. If you’re concerned about these irregularities, there are apps you can download to track your cycle and help predict when your next period might be.
When you start your period, it’s good to get into sustainable habits. Whether you prefer pads or tampons, have a look into options, some are organic cotton, some pads are reusable, you just wash them afterwards, and there are menstrual cups to collect the blood and there are now a great range of period underwear where you bleed into the knickers and then wash them as normal. From a choice perspective there has never been a better time to have periods!
If you decide to use traditional disposables like tampons or pads, please do not flush – ever! Flushing leads to pollution of our rivers and oceans and beaches with tampons, applicator as and pads that are flushed. Always Bin, and a fab way to do that is to use the sustainably sourced FabLittleBag. The open with one hand are opaque and seal closed meaning you can bin with confidence wherever you are!
How can I prepare for my first period?
The best thing you can do to prepare for your first period is to research what to expect, or talk to a relative, teacher, or friend with periods about their experiences. Tanya*, a recent graduate who started her period aged ten, told me that “I knew my mother had this happen to her monthly, so I knew that I should go to her for help”. A trusted adult will be able to answer any questions, and help you find sanitary products when you need them.
On the practical level, it’s useful to know where sanitary products are available — your family may have some spare at home, or they might be available in a teacher’s office or in the bathrooms at school. It’s also important to remember that having your period at a young age doesn’t mean you’re no longer a child. “I didn’t like how periods were framed as this 'adult’ topic, when so many of us start experiencing them when we are children,” says Tanya. It’s a great idea to get some products and have a good look at them to see how they work so when the time comes you feel prepared.
How can I help children around me who might be starting their period at a young age?
It’s important that schools recognize how many children will start their periods while still in primary school. 19-year-old student Isabelle*, who started their period aged 9, and remembers having to use a separate staff bathroom since there were no sanitary bins in the class toilets. Though she adds that her teachers “made sure not to embarrass me”, normalizing children getting their periods early would help them feel less othered at school for something their body naturally does.
Talking to children openly about periods will not only help them feel less scared of what’s to come, but also save them from potential health problems. Maria*, who comes from a strict religious background and started her period at 9, but kept it concealed out of shame until the age of fourteen, says that her “urinary tract infections may be traced back to…hiding my period and using unsanitary products”, and that “not managing periods hygienically can be dangerous if young people do not have access to the right products and information.”. Addressing children openly about starting their periods will encourage better physical health and healthier attitudes in the future.
The average age at which you might start your period tends to be around 12 or 13, but it can also come when you’re significantly younger or older. If you’re a child wondering when you might start your period, talk to a trusted adult about the subject and research period products. Pads and period knickers are the least invasive, so maybe talk to a parent or trusted adult about these first…. If you’re a parent or teacher of young children, it can help to create a destigmatized environment for children from a young age, and to address the topic of periods in an open and honest manner.