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What is a period?

Roughly once a month the female body prepares to have a baby. The ovaries release an egg and the womb prepares a lining of tissue and blood for the potential baby. If it is not fertilized, the lining is shed and you have a period.

When most people think of the menstrual cycle they just think about periods. However, the female body goes through a whole range of changes throughout the whole menstrual cycle, and the period is only one part of it.

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I think my child is about to start their period

The average age for starting your period in the UK is 12, but many people will start as young as 8 or 9, as old as 15 or 16. Everyone is different, but it’s a good idea to talk to your child sooner rather than later.

Don’t wait for the perfect moment – there isn’t one. And don’t save everything up for one big chat. 

It’s much easier to talk about difficult topics early and often. If periods come up in conversation naturally – maybe you’re in the shop picking up tampons, or watching a movie which makes a reference to PMS – take the chance to chat. You don’t need to cover everything in one go and it will help to repeat the conversation a few times over the years.

As a rough guide, most schools cover periods and puberty when kids are in their last two years of primary school (so aged 10/11). For many girls, this will be TOO LATE. 15% of girls don’t know what’s happening when they start their period – which is scary. If your daughter is 8, it would be worth starting the conversation.

Once other puberty signs have been there for a few months it's a good idea to ensure they have some pads and spare pants in their schoolbag just in case, and that they know where to find them in the house.

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I think I might have endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic pain condition that affects around 1 in 10 women. Many people don’t realise that they have endometriosis, and spend many years suffering intense cramps, heavy bleeding, and tiredness.

If your periods have a negative effect on your life go and see a doctor. Very little is understood about endometriosis – we need more medical research. If your GP is unable to help you, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Find an endometriosis support group online or in your local area.

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I think I might be starting the menopause

Hot flushes? Irregular periods? Peri-menopause is the time when the menstrual cycle starts to change in the lead up to menopause. For most women, this happens between the ages of 45 and 55 and often comes with hot flushes, irregular cycles, heavier periods and mood changes. Menopause is when you haven’t had a period for at least 12 months. It means that no more eggs are released and you can no longer get pregnant even if you’re having unprotected sex.

If you think you are starting to experience peri-menopause visit your GP in the first instance.

There is still a lot of stigma about periods, and people have historically found it difficult to talk about their menopause and how it affects their lives. Unfortunately, going through ‘the change’ can be really difficult – impacting your mental health, your physical health, your relationships, and your confidence. Remember to get help if you need it.

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My periods are really irregular

It can take a couple of years for periods to settle into a rhythm, but most people can then expect fairly regular bleeding. Keep track using a diary, calendar or app.

If your periods continue to be very irregular after the first few years, then this can be a sign that something is wrong. For example, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common menstrual health condition that affects women. Visit your GP in the first instance.

Remember that periods change throughout your life, and many things can affect your menstrual cycle:

  • Pregnancy and breast feeding
  • Stress and poor health
  • Some medical conditions
  • Some contraceptives
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs
  • Having a hysterectomy (which is where your womb is surgically removed)

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My periods are really heavy

Most people lose just one to two egg cups of blood each period, although it can sometimes look and feel like more than that because cervical mucus and womb lining tissue flow out along with the blood. 

Many people experience heavy periods. If you need to change your products every hour or more, or wear more than one product at once, go and see your doctor.

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I get really down before my period starts

In the week before your period it's normal to feel a bit more tired, sensitive and grumpy as hormone changes affect the body and the emotions. Everyone experiences PMS or PMT differently – feeling down is very common, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Some people experience monthly depression and anxiety, in line with their menstrual cycle. This is called PMDD, and it is important that you get the support you need. Tracking your whole cycle can help you be prepared for the difficult days.

If you are experiencing suicidal feelings, speak to someone you trust, call the Samaritans free on 116 123 or call 999 in an emergency.

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My periods have changed since I had my baby

Immediately after you have a baby you are likely to experience very heavy bleeding for 4-6 weeks. It can take a while for your menstrual cycle while to return to normal, especially if you’re breastfeeding. You may find that your periods are different, even once they’ve settled into a regular pattern.

During breastfeeding your body releases hormones that suppress ovulation. It may be 6 months or more before you get another period – but don’t rely on this as a contraceptive as you could still get pregnant.

Speak to your family nurse or your GP if you have any questions.

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My child has a disability – how can I help with their periods

Managing periods with a disability can be challenging. For some the sensory experience of having a period and using products can be overwhelming, while for others the physical side of changing products could be the area that needs support.

It’s important to talk to your child about their periods before they start, and find ways to communicate with each other about what can be a difficult topic. Speak to your child’s support worker at school if they have one, to see how you can work together to manage their symptoms and changing mood.

For lots of reasons, pads and period pants may be easier to manage than tampons and cups, although it’s a matter of personal preference. 

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Are reusable products right for me?

Reusable period products are becoming more and more popular. They help reduce waste, lower your environmental impact, and can save you money.

Everyone uses different period products for different reasons – habit, price, availability, personal preference. It’s tempting to stick with the same brand forever, but making a switch can be very empowering.

Find what’s right for your lifestyle. Many public buildings and schools now give out free reusable products, so if you’re interested in making the switch, then check out the reusable filter on this app.

Advice on reusable period products:

What is Toxic Shock and should I be worried about tampons?

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious illness that is associated with tampons and (even more rarely) cups. It is caused by bacteria and can rapidly progress from flu like symptoms to a serious illness that can be fatal.

Many people worry about using tampons because of TSS. In reality the chances of infection are very small. Always use the lowest absorbency for your flow and change your tampon at least every 8 hours (it’s better to change every 4-6 hours).

Symptoms include fever, flu, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, dizziness, fainting, confusion and drowsiness. If you think you might have TSS go to a doctor ASAP.

Can my teenage daughter use tampons or a menstrual cup?

Tampons and menstrual cups are more fiddly to use than pads and pants. Because they are used internally many people worry about the appropriate age to start using them. This depends on individual preference, as well as your cultural and religious beliefs. There is no physiological reason that a teenager can’t use internal products.

What about incontinence?

Many women experience incontinence throughout their life. This can get worse after childbirth and as we get older. Disposable and reusable period pads, as well as period pants can be used for light incontinence. They are not as absorbent as incontinence products designed for heavy urine leakage. If you need free products speak to your GP or the local foodbank.

My partner is struggling with their periods

Periods affect everyone differently at different points in their life. If your partner is having a difficult time with their period – perhaps experiencing pain or changes in their mood – then speak to them about it. Everyone can collect free period products for family or friends from public buildings across Scotland. If you are a man, needing products for your wife or daughter, don’t feel shy! These products are for everyone.