The beginning of menstruation, or ‘the period,’ is a major event in a young woman’s development. At puberty, girls’ bodies experience a great deal of hormonal activity, especially the production of estrogen and progesterone. This causes many physical as well as emotional changes.

One physical change is the release of a tiny egg from the ovaries to the uterus. The uterus gets ready for fertilization and pregnancy. If a fertilized egg does not implant, the uterus sheds its lining, known as endometrial tissue. Blood and endometrial tissue then exit the body through the vagina. The first time this happens is called menarche, and typically occurs between 12 and 14 years of age. The timing of a girl’s first menstruation can be affected by many factors, including ethnicity, percentage of body fat, and whether or not she grew up with her biological father.

Menstruation is part of a hormonal cycle and can occur every 21-31 days. It typically lasts 3-7 days. During this time girls can feel especially emotional. Menstruation may be accompanied by other symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and cramping. If you are experiencing menstrual pain, you can talk with your healthcare provider about ways to treat cramping.

Good personal hygiene is essential during this time. Girls often use a variety of sanitary products such as pads or tampons to stay clean.

Some girls eagerly anticipate menstruation, but others look at it with some fear and confusion. If you are having your first menstruation or know a girl who has, remember that there are reasons to celebrate this event, because it is a sign of womanhood. It is perfectly normal, and it happens to prepare your body for carrying a baby. Because menstruation means that you are likely fertile, it is important to recognize that sexual intercourse can cause pregnancy.