How to know your first period is coming soon
This post was written by Sarah Cox, a third year medical student at UTHSCSA studying to become an OBGYN.
One of the major developmental changes that happens during puberty is menarche–the term for getting your first period. What signs can hint your first period might be coming soon? For many menstruators, puberty changes happen in roughly the same order (but please know that it is still normal if you go through puberty in a different order!) We can use this average timeline to have an idea of what might be coming next.
Initial puberty changes often start between ages 8-13 (Older than 13? Head to our post “Haven’t had your first period?”). For most menstruators, breast budding (a small raised bump behind the nipple) is the first physical sign of puberty. In a minority, pubic hair and armpit hair growth develops first. Either one of these signs can tell you you’ve started puberty.
Following breast and pubic hair growth, teens go through a 2-3 year growth spurt. Around the end of this growth spurt is when menarche happens. Being mindful of these changes in your body can help you know what to expect next.
For example, let’s say our friend Priyanka notices breast buds at age ten. A few months later, she notices that she is having hair grow in her armpits and in her pubic region. During her years of being 11 and 12, she is growing taller and starting to notice that her body shape is more like her mom’s than it used to be. At 12 she gets her first period.
In a different example, our friend Maria notices pubic hair for the first time at age 8, and starts wearing a camisole for some extra coverage a few months later. She grows taller and then gets her first period a few months before her tenth birthday.
Priyanka and Maria are both normal in their development–we can see they go through the changes in roughly a similar pattern over roughly a similar amount of time, even though they were a different age when they started puberty.
It can be hard to know exactly when your first period will come. Vaginal discharge starts before you get your first period, but it can start two years before, or a week before (average is 6-12 months). Menstrual cramps often happen before the first period, but they can be hard to identify as period cramps when you’ve never had them before.
Period cramping is often achey, and can be sharp or a constant, dull pain. You'll feel it usually in your middle abdomen about the level where your pubic (hip) bone is. This is lower in the abdomen than your stomach, and although your stomach may also feel upset, period cramps are lower in your abdomen than a stomachache. You may notice that the pain can reach your upper thighs (especially in the middle) and lower back.
Okay I got my first period, what now? When is the next one coming?
Periods are typically irregular for the first 1-3 years. This is because the communication between parts of the brain and the reproductive organs have to mature, and until this communication network matures, irregular periods happen.
When we say that periods are irregular, we mean that the amount of days from the start of one period to the start of the next period varies, and how many days you are bleeding can be different from one cycle to the next. However, just because you should expect periods to be irregular, doesn’t mean there won’t be some sort of pattern.
The goal is for periods to occur between every 21-45 days and last a week or less. Once you’ve had your first period, if you haven’t had a period for more than 90 days, are having periods longer than 8 days, are soaking a period product more often than every 2 hours, or are having severe cramping that requires you to miss school or activities, you should see a doctor.
During your period, change your pad or tampon every 4-6 hours, or more often if needed due to heavier flow. Pay attention to symptoms like cramping, breast tenderness, and bloating, and you will start to learn your body’s specific signs indicating a period is coming. Cramping can be the easiest sign to identify, and can be an indication to wear period underwear, put in a pantyliner, or insert a menstrual cup.