It’s happening. It’s about that time that your young lady has been waiting for. She got her period. It is a new phase of life for her full of questions, emotions, hormones, and anxiety.
What does the school nurse want you to know so we can all help her live her best life at school?
- Let the nurse and teacher know what’s happening. We can best support when we are in the know. We will always be happy to communicate with you and work with your child’s needs but we have to know what you/she needs. Are there any specific cultural needs regarding menstruation? Are there any specific health needs for your child that would affect menstruation? How is she feeling about it and does she need additional emotional support?
- Talk to your child about menstruation and make sure they understand how and when to change a pad or see the nurse, what cramps are, and what “heavy flow” is versus light flow. If you don’t know what to say, please let the nurse know and we will be happy to chat with your child about it (with your permission) and answer any questions for you and your child. You can even participate in the conversation if you want.
- Talk to your child about pregnancy and safe sex. Whether or not you like it, it is important information that they need to be aware of. They can absolutely get pregnant if they have started their period and they have unprotected sex. Talk to your sons about it too because they need to know.
- Talk to your sons about periods too. Boys should be educated because they will grow up to be men and they should understand how to be sensitive to the ladies in their lives.
- Provide an adequate supply of menstrual supplies for each day including spare pads, spare underwear, wet wipes (if you use those), and peri bottle (if you use that). Don’t forget a plastic bag or two in case of clothes change. If you don’t have access to supplies please let the nurse know so we can help. No one should go without these important supplies yet many do not have access.
- Encourage her to keep a spare pair of underwear and even a spare pair of pants in her bag or locker just in case of accidents. It’s embarrassing enough to get your pants stained where everyone can see it, but it would likely be equally as embarrassing to have to wear the nurse’s spare clothes. Equally as important – replace the spare clothes if they get used because the next time she might not have spare! If one has the means, they do make the new “period underwear” the helps to eliminate leaks and stained clothes which I’m told work well but are somewhat costly.
- The school nurse can usually give your child Motrin or Tylenol if they have cramps (assuming the specific school is allowed). Please communicate with the nurse about this if you have questions or concerns. I always call home and ask before I give medications but that may not be the policy for all schools. Follow your school’s policies and procedures if you want to send medication to school for your child.
- Consider a book or two that she can read at her own leisure such as this one: “The period Book: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up”. or “The care and Keeping of You, The Body Book for Older Girls” – there is also one of these for younger girls too!
- Here are great articles from Kidshealth.org about how to talk to your child about periods: Kids health – Periods, and another article about puberty: Kids Health – Puberty
Aside from what the nurse needs you to know, I would also like to share some important tips and information that the school nurse wants your menstruating child to know.
- Decrease cramps: Consuming salty foods and caffeine can make cramps worse. While we do tend to crave salty snacks surrounding menstruation it unfortunately can make things feel worse. The science: Increased salt can cause water retention which can cause you to feel more bloated and increased bloating can cause increased cramps, plus increased bloating can just make you feel icky and uncomfortable. Skip the chips and soda during your period.
- Treat cramps: heating pads are amazing. The science: cramps come from the muscles in the uterus contracting and causing pain. Heat relaxes muscle and helps to relax the uterus decreasing the cramping. Aside from a heating pad you can also try a hot/warm bath at home or a hot water bottle.
- Treat cramps: Motrin/Advil/Ibuprofen (all the same thing). IF your child is medically allowed to take Ibuprofen then it is very helpful for cramps. The science: Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and reduces pain and inflammation thus treating cramps well. Consult with your doctor prior to administering medications though, just to be safe.
- You’re not losing as much blood as you think. During the average menstruation cycle you only lose a few tablespoons of blood. The science: The “stuff” that comes out during your period is a mixture of blood, fluid, and tissue from the lining of your uterus. More often it looks worse than it is so try not to stress.
- You have a few options for supplies. Pads are the most common option, especially for younger people. Tampons are great but have a risk for scary things like Toxic Shock Syndrome or forgetting you have one in. Menstrual cups and discs are great but they can be difficult to use for some and may feel uncomfortable to some people. There is also the “period underwear” that absorbs – I’ve never seen one of these in person so I can’t speak to comfort but I’m told they are great (although maybe expensive)! they can be used for normal flow or extra protection from leakage along with a pad or tampon. Check with your trusted adult (mom, dad, doctor, school nurse) and decide what is best for you.
- Change your pad/tampon every few hours. DO NOT leave tampons in for more than 8 hours or so. Use toilet paper in the bathroom or the wrapper for the new pad to wrap the used pad and place it in a trashcan. Do not flush pads. You shouldn’t really flush tampons either but many people do.
- You may be irregular. When you are young and menstruation is new for your body it can take months or years for your body to be hormonally regulated. Your period may be every 28 days, or maybe you miss 2 months or it comes again after just 2 weeks. It might also be heavy one month then really light the next month. It might last 2 days sometimes or last 7 or more days another time. It’s all normal.
- Track it. There are tons of apps you can use to track when you get your period and how long it is. Personally, I like Ovia because you can put in a lot of information to keep track of. While that app happens to be one specifically for trying to conceive, it is also helpful for tracking your period, moods, symptoms, and many other things. You can also just track on your calendar or planner when it starts and ends. It’s good to know this info so you can be prepared for the next time with supplies, or if you are receiving medical treatment (like an x-ray) they sometimes need to know what the date of your last period was if you are of “child bearing age”.
- You’re likely to feel a rollercoaster of emotions from day to day because of hormones. If ever you feel very down and need to talk, find a trusted adult or friend and tell them. You are not alone and those bad feelings will go away.
- You. Can. Get. Pregnant. If you have started your period and you are sexually active, you absolutely can get pregnant. Do NOT assume that doing it just once unprotected is ok because it is NOT ok for so many reasons. Do NOT assume that just fooling around a “little bit” is ok because you absolutely can still get pregnant.
- Using a tampon or menstrual cup, while not always recommended for younger people, does not take away your virginity. Sometimes using one of those is necessary such as for competitive swimmers. Definitely check with your parent and/or doctor and ask if that is an option for you or if you should stick with using pads for now.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, this is all new to you. If you have any questions you should go to a parent or guardian, the school nurse, teacher or another trusted adult in your life.
- There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. Periods are a totally normal part of life that almost all females (and some trans males) have to deal with. Learning all the information you can should help you be able to adequately manage it.
For school nurses:
Check out this awesome lesson about teaching puberty to 6-8th grades: Kids Health lesson
Check out all this great educational info about reproductive health info from Beyond The Pill: Beyond The Pill
Here is an interesting article about the lack of menstrual supplies in impoverished nations
Another interesting article about “period Poverty” and what some schools are doing.