In addition to making sure our daughters have healthy options
for their bodies, we all want to give them healthy ideas for their
mental well-being too. As the founders of an organic tampon
company, and director of self-esteem programs for girls, we’ve
spent years talking to adolescents and parents about menstruation,
or the “moon” cycle. Although everyone is unique, the curiosity
of girls and the anxiety of parents associated this conversation
is pretty universal, so here are a few suggestions.
When should I talk to her?
Simple. 1) Before she gets her first period, and 2) as soon as she
asks. 50 percent of girls get their first period (menarche) around
age 12. But 10 or 11 is not uncommon and even younger is possible,
so 9 is a good target age for making sure your daughter is
informed. And keep in mind she’ll get the wonderful health talk
(eye roll) in 4th or 5th grade, so you may want to use that time to
ask if she has any other questions.
But don’t wait to have a BIG talk. Instead, make menstruation
a matter-of-fact topic at an early age, so it’s comfortable for
her to ask questions later. If you already feel positive about your
cycle, congrats! You’re a step ahead of most of us. If not, check
in with yourself about why it’s become an embarrassing topic.
When you realize how amazing your menstrual cycle is (and it’s
capacity to create life) it’s easier to resist the ridiculous stigma
associated with menstruation. Challenge yourself to embrace it
and be empowered by it.
Then, when your three-year-old pulls a pad or tampon out
of your purse and asks what it is, you’ll be less likely to make
up something untrue, ignore it, or tell her it’s a secret. An honest
answer can be simple and age-appropriate, “That’s called a
tampon (or pad). Mommy uses those to catch the blood from
her period.” The important thing to remember is to keep your
reaction calm and positive. If your response makes her feel that
she’s asked a bad question, she’ll get the message that menstruation
is a bad thing.
What should I tell her?
That elementary school talk explains what happens during puberty
. . . ovaries, egg, uterus, vagina, endometrial lining, etc. But
there’s so much more to our menstrual cycle than just the “period.”
Our three major hormones (estrogen, progesterone and
testosterone) shift little by little every single day, which create
four distinct phases. The dominance of different hormones each
has a benefit like creativity, verbal articulation, pain tolerance,
faster metabolism and more. Here are the highlights:
Week 1: The Menstrual phase. This is the “period.” Your estrogen
will begin to rise within the first few hours of bleeding and you’ll
feel improved energy and mood with each passing day. (Tip: on
day seven, your breast tissue is optimal for a self-breast exam.)
Week 2: The Estrogen phase. This is the week your energy and
mood will be at their highest, and your brain clarity and verbal
skill are also sharpest.
Week 3: The Progesterone phase. You’ve just ovulated and now
your hormones (and sometimes your energy) are on the downswing.
But this is a good time to keep up your exercise routine
since you burn 30 percent more calories at the beginning of
this week than the rest of the month.
Week 4: The Pre-menstrual phase. All of your hormones will be
at their lowest point by the end of this week. You’re lower on
energy, and probably feeling less social, but this doesn’t have
to be a bad thing. The right hemisphere of the brain is more
active now. That means your creativity is on fire, so it’s a great
time to stay home and write or paint! We like to tell girls that
not only is menstrual blood a sign that they’re entering adulthood,
and is what will enable them to become a mom (if they
choose to) some day, but it’s quite literally magic!
Menstrual blood is the most beneficial type of stem cell
blood, and is being studied for possible cures for Alzheimer’s,
stroke and certain cancers. How can anyone feel icky about that?
How should I bring it up? If we could wave a magic wand, we’d
make every girl and woman believe that her menstrual cycle is
wonderful . . . that the physical system that makes her fundamentally
female is awesome, instead of icky. We don’t have a
magic wand . . . but you do! You have the power to give your
daughter the gift of pride in her awesome female body, which
will ultimately translate into higher self-esteem. It’s equally
important that dads show comfort around this subject, so we
don’t perpetuate messages of shame. Tell your daughter that
you’ll have a celebration when she gets her first period—anything
from a quiet dinner to a big party that she can participate
in planning. This is your opportunity to create a rite of passage
into adulthood for her that will be memorable in a positive and
empowering way. It’s essential that no matter what or when
you talk about menstruation, you do so without embarrassment
or negativity. Studies show a correlation between mental
attitude and physical symptoms of the menstrual cycle. So our
first step as parents is to trade in our PMS, for a little PMA
(positive menstrual attitude)!