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“The Talk” – How Soon is Too Soon?

J.B.

How often have you heard (or said) “they grow up so fast”?  It’s true.  Kids do grow up quickly and, in terms of the onset of menstruation, it’s speeding up.

According to Sandra Steingraber, the average menstruation onset age has been steadily lessening over the last number of decades.  90 years ago, the average age was 14; 50 years ago the average was 13-1/2 years old; these days it’s 12-1/2 years old.  And it is not unheard of for girls as young as 8 or 9 to get their period.  She claims that, furthermore, half of the girls in the United States now show signs of breast budding before their tenth birthday. 

The exact reasons for this have not been established.  It is held by some “experts” that lowered rates of disease and better nutrition are factors.  But others claim that endocrine-disruptive chemicals in food, drinking water and even the air along with hormonally active agents found in a vast array of consumer items such as hair tonics, pesticides, packaging materials and building products are affecting hormonal balance.  Still, others link it to obesity.

Whatever may be the cause, the fact is that many girls are starting their periods at an earlier age.  So many mothers are finding themselves having to explain menstruation to very young girls.  But youngsters of all ages are often very good at understanding health information, particularly when it’s presented calmly.

Regardless of the age of your girl, keep it simple.  You could explain that menstruation is part of the “puberty package”, that her body is going to develop and that some of the things she’ll experience are breast development, pubic hair, underarm air, widening hips, growth spurts and menstruation.

You can let her know that as she grows, her body changes.  Part of what her body does is get a place in the body called the uterus ready for a baby to grow.  The body does this by lining the uterus and if there is no baby, the lining is discarded.  The discarded lining bleeds a little, through the vagina and this bleeding is called “a period”.  Let her know that the blood doesn’t gush out, that it’s more like a trickle that lasts for a number of days.  The body then makes a new lining for the uterus every month, just in case there is a baby.  

Tell her that many girls start their periods when they’re 12 years old, but some start earlier and some start later, that there is no “right” age.  Tell her that it could take up to two years for her periods to become regular, that she might not have a second period for a few months from her first one and not to worry if that happens.  That, too, is natural.

Many girls want practical information, like what to do if they get their first period at school.  You could explain to her about products like pads and maybe give her some (along with a clean pair of undies) to stash in her locker, just in case.  Give her some basic hygiene information such as how often to change the pads, and how to dispose of the used ones.  She may want to know if her activities will be restricted during her period.  Let her know that there’s no reason she can’t go ice skating or play soccer or participate in whatever pastime she enjoys.

When talking to your daughter about menstruation, keep it positive.  You can let her know that some girls and women experience some discomfort during a period, but not all.  But don’t refer to it as “the curse” (no matter what your private opinion is).  Let her know that it’s a natural process that occurs with all women.  Be reassuring.

She’ll probably have questions.  Answer them as fully as you can.  There are a number of illustrated books that you might find helpful, and your doctor may have some pamphlets you could use.

It’s probably best to have “the talk” with your daughter before her first period.  It’ll go much easier on her if it’s not a surprise.

 

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