Lifestyle’s contributing gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Krishna Lalloo, and psychologist Debbie Bright advise on how to better understand – and deal with – periods.
Dr Lalloo explains that the menstrual cycle is a series of hormonal and physical changes that prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy. “During menstruation, your uterus will prepare to house a fertilised egg, if the egg is not fertilised and you are not pregnant, then the lining is not needed and is shed. The shedding of this uterine lining is what most women refer to as their period. The body resets itself to prepare for another attempt at becoming pregnant.
This cycle repeats itself month after month until you reach menopause, the natural end of menstruation, which normally occurs in your late 40s or early 50s.” Interestingly, the menstrual cycle will repeat itself for an average of 400 times until a woman reaches menopause and menstruation stops.
The length of each cycle varies among women, but lasts on average between 28 and 32 days. “Although cycles usually become regular within two years of the first period, it can sometimes take anything from eight to 12 years after the first period to ovulate regularly,” says Dr Lalloo. “It would be impossible to predict which cycles would have ovulation or not, so it doesn’t mean that teenage girls in these early years are not fertile.”
What happens during menstruation?
According to Dr Lalloo, your menstrual cycle is divided into four stages:
Stage 1: The body lines the uterus with a mucous membrane every month in preparation for a fertilised egg.
Stage 2: This stage is known as ovulation. An egg is detached from one of the ovaries before proceeding into one of the fallopian tubes heading for the uterus, a journey that may take a few days. Some women experience a slight pain during ovulation, but most won’t notice it happening.
Stage 3: If the egg meets a sperm on its way to the uterus, you can become pregnant. But if it doesn’t, the body will notice and take action to dispose of the mucous lining and expel the unfertilised egg and fluids.
Stage 4: The period begins and you’ll start to bleed.
It is strongly suggested that you talk to your mom about periods. Even if mom or you are too shy, sit her down and ask those awkward questions. If talking to mom is not an option, then speaking to a teacher, aunt or older cousin you trust may work as well for you.
According to Bright, “If a young girl is not made aware of the changes her body will experience or the idea of menstruating, her first period could be traumatic and taint her feelings towards her body, sexuality, and reproductive cycles throughout her life. So it is important that she receives good advice from an early age”.
Bright believes that if appropriately framed, the first menstruation can be an extremely exciting time for a young girl, as it heralds a coming of age, and a new era in her development. “If properly explained, there can be a sort of ‘pride’ that goes hand-in-hand with this time, and an increased sense of self-esteem and empowerment. Parents should encourage this aspect of teenage development, as well as discuss issues such as sexual awareness, fertility, family planning and HIV/Aids.”
Top tips: menstruation, hygiene and health
· Vaginal discharge (the clear or slightly milky discharge) is normal. It should not smell bad or cause irritation or itching, and if this happens, you should consult your doctor as it might be an infection.
· Change underwear and sanitary protection regularly a help prevent bacteria from breeding, and thus infections from arising. “Preferably wear cotton underwear as this material “breathes” and dries easily,” suggests Dr Lalloo. “It’s also recommended that you change your pad every four to five hours to prevent added moisture.”
If you can, avoid very tight fitting clothes, such as stockings, tights, synthetic leggings or pantyhose for long periods of time, as these can cause you to sweat and increase the chance of infections as your body isn’t able to “breathe”.
Practise good bathroom hygiene – always wash hands before and after using the toilet.
Visit a gynaecologist as soon as you become sexually active, unless you are struggling with other problems such as painful periods or heavy bleeding. “It’s important that you understand how your body works,” advises Dr Lalloo. “You should not be missing your periods for an extended period of time unless you are pregnant. Yet you can miss a period from time to time for various reasons such as a cyst, but if you miss a period for longer than six months you should consult your doctor.”
One of the best ways to feel “fresh” and protected is to use good sanitary products, like Lifestyle’s innovative Fresh sense Range. It has a mild fragrance and unique Absormagic technology (a patented odour-eliminating ingredient), as well as the aloe and chamomile top-sheet which soothes skin. Its secure fit guarantees protection, ensuring no leakages, giving you confidence all day.