The first thing you should know is that the age of menarche (a fancy word for the first menstrual period) varies like crazy. The average age is around 12-and-a-half years in the U.S., but that's not the whole story — girls can start to menstruate anywhere from age 9 to 15 or so.
Before the big day happens, there are changes that you and she will likely notice. Puberty happens over five different stages, with the first stage meaning that nothing is really going on and the fifth indicating a fully mature adult. It's the in-between stages where all the action takes place.
Months, and even years, before your child begins her first period, she will start to develop breasts, body hair and new body odors. She also may begin to experience mood swings — something you may already be personally familiar with. The changes can be hard for both of you to deal with, but if you explain what she's going through, and why, it may help a smidgen.
For around six or so months before your daughter actually starts her period, she will begin to experience vaginal discharge. Make sure that she knows that this is normal, but to tell you if there is a strong odor or her vulva is irritated or itchy — this is not common, but it can indicate a problem.
And when her period begins, it's most likely not going to be like yours. A teen's first period may be nothing more than spotting, and for the first couple years, her periods may be pretty irregular and farther apart than they will be in a few years once her system regulates. She may even skip a month or so in the beginning, which is normal. She can and likely will experience a lot of the symptoms you know so well, such as cramping, moodiness and water retention.
While it's perfectly OK to do so, you don't have to leave the "puberty talk" to the schools. Many schools start puberty lessons in fourth grade health class, because girls can start going through changes that early, but there is no reason you have to wait. Periods are a normal and natural part of life, so being open and honest about the inner workings of the female body is a subject you can broach when she is very small. You can also use a website aimed at preteens and teens to help you explain the finer points of menstruation.
Periods are a concrete milestone, a point in life that shows you that your daughter is growing up and transforming into the woman she will be. While she may be unwilling to talk about her period with you, be sure that she knows you are there with supplies, understanding and love.
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