Periods and Menstrual Cycle

A period is the part of the menstrual cycle when people who are biologically female bleeds from her vagina for a few days.

Periods are completely normal, and most will start their periods during puberty. Lots of people will start their periods around the age of 12, but it could be earlier or later than that.

For women, their menstrual cycle will last for around 28 days, but it is normal for periods to be more to less frequent - ranging from every 23 to 35 days.   The period part of their cycle is at the start on day 1 and will usually last around 5 days, but can be as short as 3 days and long as 7 days.  The first two days are normally the heaviest of the period. 

You'll lose about 20 to 90ml (about 1 to 5 tablespoons) of blood during your period, although some women bleed more heavily than this.


The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones.  There are two potential outcomes from each cycle: Pregnancy or a Period.

The lining of your womb thickens for a short while during this time. If the egg is fertilised by sperm, it will stick in this lining and grow. This is how you get pregnant.

If the egg is not fertilised, then the lining of the womb breaks down and passes out of your body through your vagina as a small amount of blood — this is called a period.

Today there are a number of products that are designed to help you during your period.  They are made to absorb the blood that is lost - potentially saving your underwear!

The name of these products are Sanitary Products. 

1. Sanitary Pads

This is probably the first option that you will use when you first start.  They are a sticky pad that sticks to your underwear to catch the blood as it leaves the vagina.

They come in a variety of sizes and shapes for different flow (the amount you bleed) rates.

You can also buy something called Liners which can be used on very light flow days. Pads must be disposed of in a sanitary way and can be place in normal bins at home or sanitary bins in public places. 

2. Tampons

These are small tubes of cotton wool tubes that are inserted into the vagina and absorb the blood before it leaves the body. 

There are two types of tampons:

  • With an applicator
  • Without an applicator

Each brand will supply instructions on how to insert the tampon.  When a tampon is in the right position you shouldn't be able to feel it, so if it hurts, it’s best to remove it and try to insert a new one.

Always change tampons regularly, every 3 to 6 hours. And never leave a tampon in for more than 8 hours.

Try to alternate tampons with using sanitary pads and use a tampon that matches the blood flow you have, like not using a super absorbency tampon when you have a light period day.

A tampon can never get stuck or lost inside you and the muscles of your vagina hold it in place. It will expand inside you as it fills with blood so it will look bigger when you take it out. Tampons must be disposed of in a sanitary way and can be place in normal bins at home or sanitary bins in public places. 

3. Menstrual Cups

These are small rubber or silicone cups which can be put inside the vagina to catch the blood. The muscles of the vagina keep them in place so they don't fall out. They're then emptied, washed and used again.

4. Period Underwear and Charcoal Pads

In recent years, period underwear has been developed and are designed to be worn (catching the blood like a sanitary pad) and then washed rather that disposed of. 

When you start getting your periods, you will notice that in the days before, you may experience some unusual signs.  As you get older and begin to notice these signs and symptoms, they can be a great way to know that your period is due.  

These are symptoms are called Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) or Premenstrual Tension (PMT).

There are two types of symptoms that you can experience - emotional and physical.

Emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms
  • Tension or anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Crying spells
  • Mood swings and irritability or anger
  • Appetite changes and food cravings
  • Trouble falling asleep (insomnia)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor concentration
  • Change in libido (sex drive)
Physical signs and symptoms
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain related to fluid retention
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Acne flare-ups
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Alcohol intolerance

If you feel that you need some support with these symptoms, visit NHS Online or contact your GP to discuss your symptoms.

Learning to cope with the symptoms is part of the battle.   There are some simple steps that can make it a little bit easier:

  • Take part in gentle exercise, like walking, swimming or yoga.
  • Use a hot water bottle or have a hot bath.
  • Ask your parents, carers or the school nurse for advice on taking pain relief.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet – you may find that eating frequent smaller meals (every 2-3 hours) suits you better than eating 3 larger meals a day
  • Get plenty of sleep – 7 to 8 hours is recommended
  • Try reducing your stress by doing yoga or meditation
  • Take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to ease the pain
  • Keep a Flow Diary

If you haven't started your period yet, or have and want to be prepared.  You can create yourself a little 'emergency' kit to have in your locker and school bag. Here is a list of things that you can include:

  • Sanitary products - have what you are comfortable with, sanitary pads, tampons, etc. 
  • Hair ties
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Spare pair of socks/tights
  • Plasters
  • Tissues
  • Mini toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Spare pens
  • Wet Wipes
  • Lip Balm/Gloss
  • Hand cream/lotion
  • Spare underwear
  • Face mask
  • Mascara
  • Body spray
  • Hand Gel

You can buy complete sets online, but it is a nice thing to make for yourself - you can always add in a bottle of water and a bar of chocolate!

There are lots of reasons you might have missed your period. Lots of young people have irregular periods when they first start. It can take 2-3 years before your period stabilises into a normal rhythm.

If you’re sexually active, then it’s possible that you may be pregnant. For more information on this, visit our pregnancy page.

If you are on contraception, this can affect your cycle and how often you are bleeding. For more information, visit our contraception page. 


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