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All about menstruation | Periods (for teens)

Understanding your menstrual cycle and selecting the right sanitary product to use goes a long way in deciding how comfortable you would be during your periods.

Every girl and woman may experience menstruation differently. While some girls may experience unpleasant symptoms such as menstrual cramps, mood swings, breast tenderness, heavy flow and long periods, others may hardly notice their periods. In both cases, knowing what is unusual is important in detecting any menstrual disorder.

In this article, Dr Anjali Kumar – leading gynaecologist and obstetrician in Delhi NCR, explains all about menstruation and shares tips on selecting the right sanitary product.

What is menstruation?

Menstruation, more commonly known as periods, is the natural process of your body discarding blood and tissue from your uterus through your vagina. It generally occurs every month. 

Why does it happen?

Menstruation or periods occur due to our “menstrual cycle”. Let us understand this in further detail. 

Every woman is born with two ovaries, each of which contains several immature eggs or oocytes. During the menstrual cycle, the ovaries also produce hormones: oestrogen and progesterone, in order for the oocytes to mature into ova (matured eggs). Only matured eggs can be fertilised for a pregnancy. 

These hormones also help your uterus prepare for a pregnancy every month by making the uterine lining or endometrial lining thick and spongy. In case of pregnancy, the resulting embryo attaches itself to the thick uterine lining and continues to grow. This lining is made of tissue and blood. If pregnancy doesn’t happen, the body proceeds to expel this excess lining through the vagina in the form of your monthly period. 

When does it start?

Menstruation generally starts after the age of 12-14 years of age. However, it can begin earlier or later as well. If the start of periods is delayed beyond the age of 16 years, a gynaecological checkup is recommended. In many cases, periods may start around the same age as it did for the mother, sisters or other close female relatives of the child

Sanitary products

For any woman or girl of menstruating age, stocking up sanitary products every month is routine. Selecting the right sanitary product is a significant deciding factor about how comfortable you would be during your periods. These products have evolved greatly over the years. We now have alternatives for every body type, the intensity of flow and personal preferences. The most prevalent sanitary products available in the market today are 

Pads

Pads or sanitary napkins are probably the oldest and most basic type of sanitary product. The first pads can be traced as far back as the late 1800s with the introduction of the first disposable sanitary pad was called the Southball pad. 

Pads are rectangles of absorbent material that is used to catch menstrual blood. Over the years, their design has been developed to reduce staining and rashes during menstruation. They come in different sizes and shapes to suit body type and flow intensity. Variations have also been developed to suit different activities (such as a different pad to use while sleeping at night). You may need to try different brands and types of sanitary napkins or pads to find the ones that suit you the best. 

You may also come across pads which are perfumed to mask the smell of menstruation. However, these can cause rashes and irritate the delicate skin of the vagina in some women, hence they should be used with greater caution. Remember to change your pad regularly every 3-4 hours even if you are experiencing light flow. Prolonged use of the same pad increases the risk of infections and rashes on the vaginal area.

How to use Sanitary Pads

Remove the sanitary pad from the outer cover and unfold it.

One side of the sanitary pad is absorbent while the other side has adhesive. Place the pad in your underwear, while keeping the absorbent side facing upwards. Press it firmly to make it stick to your underwear. 

Change your pad every 3-4 hours (earlier in case of heavy flow). 

Tampons

Tampons are small cylindrical tubes made out of compressed absorbent material with a thread at one end. Based on their size, they can be suitable for heavy to light flow. You may also have to use different sizes of tampons based on the day of your menstruation.

Tampons are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual flow from inside. The thread is left outside the vagina and is used to pull the tampon out after use. Tampons can also come with applicators for ease of use. 

How to use Tampons

Remove the tampon from the outer cover. 

Wash you hands and gently insert the tampon into the vagina. It might take a few extra tries at first. 

Once the tampon in inside the vagina, you should not be able to feel it. If you still experience discomfort, it might be because of incorrect insertion. In this case, pull out the tampon with the help of the thread and try inserting a fresh one. 

While some girls prefer to squat while inserting the tampon, you may have to experiment to find the position that is most comfortable to you. 

Remember to change the tampon often to prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)-a rare but extremely dangerous complication. 

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are a fairly recent innovation in the field of sanitary products. Like tampons, they are inserted into the vagina. However, rather than absorbing the menstrual discharge like the tampon, it catches and blocks the flow. Menstrual cups are made of soft, bendable silicone or rubber. They are funnel-shaped with a sealed tail end. Once inserted in the vagina, it unfolds and catches the blood flow. Every couple of hours, it has to be removed, drained, washed and reinserted. One of the main advantages of menstrual cups is that it can be reused. Maintaining hygiene is extremely important in this case. 

How to use menstrual cups

Wash the menstrual cup thoroughly. 

Pinch the top part of the cup between your thumb, index finger and middle finger to fold it. 

Gently insert it into the vagina till the tail end. Once it is comfortably inside, remove your fingers. The cup should unfold inside the vagina. In case it doesn’t, remove it and try again after changing your position. Squatting is recommended. 

Deciding the right sanitary product to use

Using the right sanitary product can make your period much easier or much more difficult. The right fit depends on a number of factors. Your build, your flow, the day of your cycle, what you’re doing etc. 

Tampons have to be changed often. Hence, using them at night is not advised. Some girls also prefer to use large, winged pads at night to minimise the risk of staining and have more freedom to move in their sleep. 

Many girls also prefer pads as they are less invasive. They are easier to use (however, practice makes it easier to use tampons and cups as well) and change. Tampons and cups are popular due to their small size and greater comfort. While pads may cause rashes as well as become uncomfortable and bulky as they get saturated, you generally dont feel tampons and cups once they are inside the vagina. Pads are also unsuitable for activities such as swimming. 

Keep the above factors in mind while choosing which sanitary product to use. Don’t be afraid of experimenting. It may take some tries to get it right but once you do, your periods are going to be much more easier on you. The right sanitary product can also have a slight impact on the severity and length of your menstrual cycle. While the choice depends solely on your comfort at the end, your gynaecologist can help you understand your periods better. 

Menstrual Hygiene

Hygiene is the most important thing to keep in mind while menstruating. During this time, you are more prone to getting infections and UTIs. If care is not taken, these problems can become recurrent and extremely severe. 

Regardless of which sanitary product you are using, change or wash it (as applicable) every few hours. Wash your vagina thoroughly with water and soft soap. Dry it and then use the pad, tampon or cup. 

Extra care needs to be taken while using tampons and cups, and people may tend to forget them in there. Tampons are also associated with a rare and dangerous complication called toxic shock syndrome. Its symptoms include sudden high fever, low blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, confusion, muscle aches, redness in the eyes, mouth and throat as well as seizures. Seek medical attention immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. 

It may take some time to understand your menstrual cycle and menstruation. Take your time and observe your flow and dont be scared to experiment. Talk to your gynaecologist for more help in deciding the right product. Tracking your menstrual cycle with the help of mobile apps or the simple calendar, can also help you stock up on time and not be caught unawares. 

Most importantly, don’t hesitate to Talk about Menstruation. 

Connect with our gynecologist in gurgaon if you have the above mentioned symptoms.

Dr. Anjali Kumar
Author: Dr. Anjali Kumar
Dr. Anjali Kumar specializes in developing patient protocols to increase normal delivery rates and VBACs (Vaginal Births After Caesarean). Her key areas of expertise include advanced minimally invasive procedures to treat ectopic pregnancies, ovarian cysts, fertility enhancement and endometriosis.
 
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