A Beginner's Guide to Period Care: Everything You Need to Know
Entering a new phase of life is exciting but can also be daunting. And the arrival of your first period is no different. Menstruation is a common experience shared by half the population. Yet it’s not often talked about, which can lead to anxiety, confusion and even leave you wondering, ‘Is this normal?’ whenever Aunt Flo comes to town.
In most cases, the answer is a resounding, ‘Yes!’ What you're experiencing during menstruation is natural and healthy. And it can also be much less overwhelming if you know what to expect.
In this beginner's guide to period care, we tackle everything from the reason behind your monthly bleed to tips for managing cramps and the various benefits of tampons, pads and menstrual cups. Whether you’re a first-time menstruator or looking to refresh your knowledge, read on. We've answered all your burning questions – and more.
WHAT ARE PERIODS – AND WHY DO YOU GET THEM?
Commonly known as your period, menstruation is a process that involves the shedding of the lining of your uterus (or endometrium). Typically occurring each month, it’s a sign your body is preparing for a possible pregnancy.
When an egg isn't fertilised by sperm, your hormone levels shift, causing the uterine lining to break down and be released through your vagina. This process, which typically lasts a few days to a week, eliminates old tissue to allow a fresh lining to grow in preparation for the next cycle.
What comes out during your period is usually a mix of bright red and dark red blood. Sometimes, it can be clumpy with small clots. Don't worry – this is also perfectly normal.
PERIOD FREQUENCY AND DURATION – WHAT’S ‘NORMAL’?
From the frequency of your period to the heaviness of your flow, don’t stress if you and your bestie are different. No two periods are alike, so don’t judge yourself against your peers. Instead, learn what’s normal for you, as that will give you valuable insight into your cycle.
When will I get my first period?
On average, periods begin between the ages of 10 and 13. However, they can start as young as 8 or as late as 17. They’re a sign you’re going through puberty and are the most natural thing in the world.
Some signs your menstrual cycle is about to begin can include changes in body shape, weight gain, height increase, pubic hair, breast development, and a clear, white or yellowy discharge from your vagina.
How will I know my period is coming each month?
Before subsequent periods, you might experience signs such as tender breasts and tummy swelling. You may feel a bit moody or have lower back pain. Or, if you’re very lucky, you might feel nothing at all!
If you do feel grumpy or tearful, this is very normal and nothing to worry about. It’s also quite common to have some early stage ‘spotting’ (small amounts of blood on your knickers) a few days before your period.
You’ll begin to understand what your normal is after several cycles. However, it’s important to be patient as it can take 4 to 6 years for your menstrual patterns to become well established.
How long will my period last?
Periods usually last between 3 and 7 days. Often lighter in the beginning, then tend to get heavier in the first few days and then taper off until bleeding stops. You’ll typically lose a very small amount of blood during your period, approximately 6 to 9 tablespoons (half a cup. Although it can feel and look like much more.
How often will I get my period?
Periods most often occur on a 28-day cycle, but 21 to 35 days is also within the normal range. Not sure what that means? These numbers refer to your menstrual cycle length – which you can determine by counting the number of days between the first day of one period and the start of the next. So, if you start bleeding on the 1st of November and then again on the 29th of November, you have a 28-day cycle.
While some people can set a clock by the arrival of their period each month, others have a more unpredictable cycle. We recommend that you keep a diary or use an app to keep track of your periods and what normal is for you.
Skipped a period? Don’t panic. While we talk about monthly periods, these are often irregular when you first start menstruating. It can take several cycles for a pattern to emerge and long cycles are common at first1. Factors such as being underweight, over-exercising or high stress levels can also lead you to skip a period.
PERIODS AND ALL THE FEELINGS
We’ve all seen the stereotype of the pre-menstrual woman tearing the head off her partner for no reason or crying into a tub of ice cream. But is there any truth to it? Let’s explore.
How will I feel during my period?
If you feel a little tired during your period, you’re not alone. You may also feel grumpy, tearful or hungry. Bloating is common and many of us will also experience some degree of cramping or tummy pain – which may also be felt in the lower back or thighs. Pain can be dull and constant or arrive in intense spasms2.
Menstrual pain varies immensely between individuals and can be mild (or non-existent) or more severe. This is the case with endometriosis – a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus.
Cramps can usually be managed with rest, heat (like a cosy hot water bottle) and over-the-counter painkillers. However, you should speak to your doctor if your pain is debilitating.
What is PMS?
PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, is the result of changing hormones in your body that can make you feel grumpy, emotional, and even angry in the lead-up to your period. You may also crave sugary foods like chocolate which can (sorry) actually make the symptoms worse.
While some people with periods really notice this, others are hardly affected.
PMS symptoms disappear once you have your period; however, you should speak to your GP if you're badly affected. Supplements such as Vitamin B6 and essential fatty acids may also bring you relief.
WHAT DIFFERENT PERIOD CARE PRODUCTS ARE AVAILABLE?
We’ve come a long way and there’s now a wide range of period care products to keep you feeling fresh, comfortable and clean. Choosing the right period product is simply a matter of personal preference. And it often takes some trial and error to find the right fit for your body and lifestyle.
To help you get started, here’s a run-down of the most popular options. From pads to tampons to moon cups, there's a period product that's just right for you.
Discreet and suited to most activities (except snoozing), tampons are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood. They’re available with or without applicators and offer a lot of flexibility, with different sizes to suit your individual flow.
Worried you’ll be viewed in a different way after using one? Don’t be. Using a tampon in no way means your body has changed!
Ideal for first-time tampon users, our Oi Girl Organic Tampons come in a mini size, which can be less daunting to insert and is perfect for light-flow days. We also have regular and super tampons for when you need them.
Not sure how to insert your tampon? You’ll find clear insertion instructions on the box or you can also head here. Once it’s comfortably inserted, you’ll need to change your tampon 3-6 times daily (recommend every 4 hours).
A tampon should not be worn for more than 8 hours at a time and never overnight. This is where pads come in handy.
Pads are another popular option, worn externally and attached to your underwear to absorb blood. These come in varying absorbencies, from ultra-light to maxi or overnight, and should be changed every 3 to 4 hours during the day for good hygiene and to prevent odours. If you’re wearing a pad while you sleep, leaving it on for 8 or more hours is totally fine.
Less suited to sport than tampons, some pads can be a little bulky if you’re dealing with a very heavy flow. However, they’re the number one option for overnight wear. And many women still prefer them for daytime use.
Secured to your undies by an adhesive backing strip, our ultra-thin Oi Organic Pads are discreet and comfy in regular and super and overnight absorbencies. They also have side sections or ‘wings’ to help keep your pad firmly in place and stop leakage.
An increasingly popular and eco-friendly option, a menstrual cup sits inside the vaginal canal like a tampon. However, unlike a tampon, it’s rinsed and reused – making it a zero-waste product.
Once you insert the soft, bendable cup into the vagina, it forms a seal to prevent leaks and captures your blood. Depending on your flow, you can then leave it in for a maximum of 8 hours .
However, depending on the materials used, you may experience an allergic reaction. (Though not with our silicone-free, hypoallergenic cup!) Additionally, menstrual cups can be messy to empty, and the insertion process can take a little getting used to. Once you do, though, they’re a very convenient – and budget-friendly – option.
Relatively new on the scene is period underwear. Like regular undies but with ultra-absorbent and odour-fighting properties, period underwear has a sewn-in gusset that catches and holds onto blood, which is later washed out.
Reusable and machine washable, period undies can be worn alone or as a buffer on your heavy days to make sure you don’t experience any embarrassing stains.
Organic vs non-organic period products
Another consideration when buying period care products is whether or not they’re organic. Traditionally, many tampons, pads and panty liners are made with synthetic materials that undergo extensive chemical processing during manufacturing. Chemicals that are then introduced to the highly sensitive and absorbent skin of your vagina and vulva. Crazy, huh?
Organic products like ours, on the other hand, are made with organic cotton grown without toxic sprays or pesticides (and requiring 90% less water than non-organic cotton). No chlorine is used to bleach the cotton and no harmful chemicals are found in the final product. We know what we’d rather put on and in our bodies.
Biodegradable and plastic-free, Oi certified organic period products contain no toxic chemicals, harmful preservatives, synthetic additives, or GMOs. Made from plant-based, biodegradable materials and free from fragrance, they’re gentle and non-irritating on your private parts. And kinder to the planet.
LIVING LIFE (TO THE FULL) WITH YOUR PERIOD
Life doesn’t have to stop each month when your period comes around! From menstruation at school and in the pool to some handy self-care tips, we’ve answered the questions we most often receive from beginner bleeders.
Can I go swimming when I have my period?
Of course! You can enjoy swimming during your period, but you’ll need to use a tampon or menstrual cup, not a pad. Tampons and menstrual cups are better for other sports, too, as they’re less bulky and more comfortable during exercise.
If you’re most comfortable using pads, that’s fine. Just tell your coach you’re unable to swim while you have your period or write a note if you find that easier.
How can I look after myself during my period?
It’s important to listen to your body’s signals and rest as much as you need to, taking some quiet time to curl up with a book or enjoy a warm bath. Make sure to eat lots of nutritious foods and drink plenty of water or herbal tea. We recommend eating whole foods including fresh vegetables, good quality meats such as chicken, lamb or beef, fish, fruit and nutrient-dense grains.
And, while we might sound like party poopers, it’s best to steer clear of junk foods as these can make you feel tired and deplete your body.
Gentle exercise such as walking, bike riding, yoga, dancing or swimming can help with low energy levels and tummy cramps. You can also apply heat with a wheat bag or hot water bottle to relieve pain.
What should I do if my period starts in school?
When you’re approaching menstruation age, it's a good idea to start carrying some pads, liners and/or tampons in your school bag. Put your sanitary product in the small or medium Oi bags provided and pop this in your school bag.
As it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly when your period will start, we recommend using a panty liner daily for freshness and to catch spotting if getting close to your period.
Unprepared when your period arrives? Speak to the school nurse or a trusted friend. You’ll find that the school nurse will have a supply of tampons and pads that you can use. These will fit in the medium Oi purse.
If your period starts in class, wrap a jumper around your waist and ask to be excused. Find the school nurse, a female teacher, or go to the school office for help. It's also handy to pack a clean pair of knickers in your schoolbag too, just in case.