Managing Your Periods

I’m getting older. I’m getting bigger. My body is changing. Sometimes there will be blood coming from my body. This is okay. It will not hurt… I might be sad. If this happens I can go lie down…’

Social story written for autistic girls by Jessica, a special education teacher. ( Source: External Website that opens in a new window)

 

Why do I bleed every month?

Menstrual Cycle (Image courtesy TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues), Red Book, 1999)

When girls are between 10 and 15 years old, they start bleeding from the vagina every month for around 4-7 days every month. The blood flow can be heavy or light, and can vary from month to month. The technical name for monthly bleeding is menstruation, but it’s commonly referred to as periods, chums, menses, or ‘being down.’ Getting your periods is something that happens to all girls while growing up, and it’s absolutely normal. Sometimes girls get frightened because they think something is wrong with them. Nothing is wrong with you – in fact, it is a sign that your body is healthy and working well.

Getting your period is nature’s way of telling you that you’re growing into a woman who is ready to have a baby. Inside your body are two ovaries External Website that opens in a new windowthat contain thousands of tiny eggs. Each month, an egg is released and begins to travel to your uterus or womb. During this time, the uterus begins to thicken its lining and collect blood in preparation for pregnancy. If by the time the egg reaches the uterus it hasn’t met a male sperm, a baby can’t be made, and your body doesn’t need the extra blood and lining. This extra blood then leaves through your vagina.

Given my disability, how can I manage my period?

Getting your period for the first time can be overwhelming for all girls – irrespective of whether they have a disability. People around you may worry that given your impairment, you won’t be able to manage your period. For the most part however, you should be able to manage your period, asking for help when you need it. Girls with developmental disabilities may find this more difficult – for more information, look at the last question on this page.

Most women use napkins (a soft cloth), disposable sanitary pads (that can be placed inside your panties) or tampons (which is inserted inside your vagina) during their period. Some girls and women prefer pads or napkins because you don’t need to put anything inside yourself, and a napkin can be washed and reused. Others prefer tampons because they feel like it is cleaner (it catches the blood inside your vagina) and they can be disposed of easily.

You disability might mean that you have to take a few more things into account. If you are visually impaired, it will be much easier to identify your period by smell. If you have limited mobility, you may need some assistance. Talk to your caregiver about what will be comfortable for her. For example, she may be okay with changing your sanitary pad, but may not want to help you insert a tampon. If you have spastic (tight) hip or thigh muscles and can’t open your legs very wide, it may be easier to use a method that doesn’t involve inserting anything into your vagina.

Your body will find different ways to tell you that you’re about to start your period. Many women feel a tenderness or sensitivity in their nipples, or pain in their lower back or abdomen, right before their periods are about to start. You may also experience shifts in your moods and emotions, sometimes known as PMS External Website that opens in a new window – this is completely normal, and it’s your body’s own way of telling you that your period is on the way. Because having your period is a natural way for blood to leave your body, your vaginal area shouldn’t hurt during this time. But sometimes you may feel pain or heaviness in your lower back, abdomen, breasts or thighs. Some women get severe cramps, others may feel sensitivity in their nipples or have a general body ache. If you have bad cramps, use a hot water bag on the abdomen, gently massage the area, or take a pain killer. Gentle exercise and continuing with daily activities can help, because they prevent the muscles from becoming constricted or cramped. In case of excessive pain, or pain in and around your vagina, consult a gynaecologist or health worker.

Do I have to stay at home every month during my periods?

Unless you have severe body pain or are feeling low, there’s absolutely no reason for you to stay at home. Often girls or women are considered to be ill or dirty while they have their periods, and are expected to stay away from others during this time. But having your period doesn’t make you dirty! Think about it – the blood that has come out of your body is the same blood that was needed to nourish a baby growing inside you. How can it be dirty? The reason that it is leaving your body is because it is no longer needed, not because it is unclean.

However, there are many social taboos around menstruation External Website that opens in a new window that impose needless rules on girls and women during this time of the month. But it’s time to debunk this junk, because despite what others may say, getting your periods is as natural as breathing and eating. So you can go into the kitchen, interact with others, and continue with your daily routine as you otherwise would.

Can I have sex or get pregnant during my period?

If you and your partner are both comfortable, you can have sex during your period. If you’re not sure whether your partner has HIV or any other STD, it’s a good idea to protect yourself against possible infections by using the correct contraception.

Many people believe that you can’t get pregnant during your period if you have unprotected sex with a man – this is untrue. There’s no time during your reproductive years that the risk of pregnancy is 0%, so it’s best to use some form of contraception (whether or not you have your period) if you don’t want to get pregnant. Look at question 3 on this link External Website that opens in a new windowfor more information.

My daughter has a developmental disability and finds it difficult to understand many things. She is going to start her periods soon. What do I do?

It’s natural to be worried about your daughter’s wellbeing, and menstruation can be a time fraught with challenges for parents. However, there are some simple steps and techniques you can use to help your daughter to manage her period as independently as she can.

Many doctors and special needs educators suggest using a calendar to help girls and women plan for their menstrual cycle. Together you and your daughter can start to mark the days she has her period, which can help her be prepared and less alarmed each month. Some families and doctors opt to sterilise girls with developmental disabilities, because they feel they cannot manage their periods. This is not necessary. Look at the last question on the Keeping it Safe page before considering this option.

It is a good idea to start preparing your daughter for her periods before she actually starts menstruating, particularly if you are concerned she may be afraid of the blood. The way in which you explain this to her will depend on her cognitive abilities. The Australia Global Medical School has a useful and easy to understand booklet PDF File that opens in a new window External Website for parents and caregivers on assisting a mentally disabled girl with her periods. It provides detailed information for caregivers to help girls accept their periods (without distress or anxiety), to behave in socially acceptable ways during menstruation, and to participate in some, or all, menstrual management tasks. Teaching simple phrases like ‘You will bleed every month’ and ‘The blood is not dirty – it is clean’ can be an effective way to break down more complicated ideas. It can also help to use pictures and stories wherever possible. Here is a colourful storyPDF File that opens in a new window External Website explaining how all girls get their periods, how and where to change a pad, and how someone she trusts can help with this. You can adapt this based on your daughter’s routine, surroundings and friends, to help her understand how having her period fits into her own life.