The age at which a girl's periods start varies widely. Some girls are
still at junior school, others are fourteen or fifteen years old before they
begin menstruation. Either age - or any one in-between - is within normal
limits. Girls often follow their mothers, in the age at which they start menstruating.
The onset of menstruation is a sign that the cycle of ovulation has
begun. The hormones associated with the release of the monthly ovum, or egg,
from the ovary also prepare the lining of the uterus to receive the
fertilized egg. If fertilization does not occur, this lining of the uterus
is discharged ( again under control of the hormones, 'chemical messengers' in the blood ), in the form of the monthly
Regularity of periods
For the first year or two this periodic shedding of the lining of the
uterus can be erratic and there may be several months when there is no
period. This is nothing to worry about, and mothers should reassure their
daughters on this point. In most girls the periods will become regular eventually, although there are many women whose periods are
The amount of blood lost at each menstrual period is
again, variable, as is the length of time the period lasts. The
average duration of a period is five days, and the complete
cycle being, again on average, twenty-eight days. But the
cycle, too, varies markedly from this average in many
women. However, once a rhythm has been established,
this will be the norm for that particular girl.
Many women never have problems with their periods;
others suffer varying degrees of pain, and this can start in
the first years of menstruation. There are two basic types of
menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhoea, to give the proper
1 Spasmodic dysmenorrhoea is - as the name suggests - a
spasmodic pain which usually occurs the first day or two of
the period. It comes on suddenly, is cramp-like and makes
the unfortunate girl feel sick and ill. She will be pale and in
obvious pain. The best treatment is to spend an hour lying
down with a hot-water bottle on the painful abdomen,
having taken aspirin or paracetamol. Usually after this
time, the worst of the spasm will be over and school work
can be resumed. All schools should be aware of this
problem, and make facilities available for the care of senior
2 Congestive dysmenorrhoea is a dull ache in the lower part
of the abdomen and back and tends to occur a day or two
before the period begins. Relief is often felt soon after the
menstrual flow starts. However unwilling the sufferer is to
take some exercise, this really is one of the best ways of
relief. This type of pain is not so acute as the spasmodic
type, but it can make life miserable for a day or two.
Excessive menstrual loss is sometimes a problem in
the early years. If this continues for some time, medical
advice should be sought; otherwise the girl will become anaemic through the continuing excessive loss of blood.
Hormone tablets for a few months usually correct the
Menstruation for most girls is merely a sign that they are
growing-up. Apart from the inconvenience, they experience no other problems -
providing the whole process, and what to expect, has been carefully and
sensitively explained some time before the first period is likely to occur.
For the girl who has received this information, the event is
just another stage in growing into young womanhood. For
the girl who has not had the benefit of such preparation, it
can be a very frightening and traumatic experience.
Any mother who feels at a loss as to how to pass on to her
daughter this vital information can be greatly assisted by
any one of a large number of helpful books on the subject,
available either through a local bookshop or library.