Dads Guide to Periods
Being a Dad, navigating conversations about periods with your child might seem tricky. As a single Dad to a 12 year old daughter, I understand that many men aren't comfortable discussing this topic. But as with many challenges to being a single parent, forewarned is forearmed!
Helen at Cheeky approached me to co-author this blog post with her after she read these posts on Mumsnet recently and was shocked at the level of ignorance:
To be clear that means ignorance in the most literal sense, in that many men have never actually been educated about the real nitty gritty of periods.
I aim to change that! So here's my Dad's Guide to Periods, which covers:
- Understanding periods
- Understanding period products
- Signs your child is about to get their period
- How to talk to your daughter about their period
- How to talk to your son about periods
- Maintaining hygiene
Let's start with the basics. Periods, also known as menstruation, are a completely natural part of a person's reproductive system. Period blood isn't dirty and it's nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
It happens when the uterus sheds its lining over a period of 5 to 7 days, resulting in bleeding which will contain some uterine tissue and occasionally clots. This menstrual cycle typically lasts around 28 days. Many myths surround periods such as you can't have exercise or baths during your period so make sure you know what's real and what's #fakenews.
In terms of the nitty gritty your daughter will lose around 85ml of blood on average over that 5 day period. Generally the first day or two will be heavier before it tails off.
If your child is bleeding through pads in an hour or their periods are lasting a lot longer than 5 days, it's worth a trip to the GP for further investigation.
Period blood loss can't be controlled as it's not like pee! It comes out of the vagina rather than the urethra (the vagina is Hole 2 from front to back if you're unsure which one it is!)
Typically, periods will feel heavier first thing in the morning which is basically down to gravity. The blood has pooled overnight and when they first get out of bed more is waiting there to flow out.
That's why period shorts overnight are a great idea and will save you loads of washing of bloodstained bedding!
If you count the period starting as day 1, you can expect to see signs of PMS or premenstrual syndrome from day 21 to 28 which is the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Falling progesterone levels can trigger irritability or mood swings and tears.
The best thing to do in these circumstances is to be aware that hormones are causing this, that it will pass and to give lots of hugs!
Period products stop period blood leaking through underwear onto clothing and are essential products for girls and women and everyone who menstruates.
There are various menstrual products available including disposable or reusable pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and period pants.
Reusable period products are now much more commonplace as they have the benefits of being more comfortable to wear, better for the environment and will save money too.
One super important thing to note which not everyone is aware of is that blood is a protein stain. As soon as you put water over body temperature on it, it 'sets' the stain. That's why period soaked undies or bedding must be washed on a cool or cold water wash, maximum 30c!
I love the vanish soap stick for period pants and pads. Quick rinse in cold water, rub the soap over the stain, then cool water wash. Bingo!
For children starting their periods, period pants are the way forward as they're just different knickers that they wear on their period! There's no secret sauce, they're just absorbent knickers with a leak-proof layer which are washed and reused.
There's more info here on this article about the best period pants for teens.
Your daughter should be able to wear one pair of period underwear all day and change them when they get home, without any leaks. If they're leaking through normal period pants after a short time, they may need heavy flow period pants. We love Cheeky period shorts or cheeky heavy flow cotton knickers are great for this!
Tampons are wads of cotton attached to a string which are inserted into the vagina with fingers or an applicator. They are used once and then should be disposed into the bin.
Menstrual cups are silicone cups which catch blood flow which is then emptied into the toilet.
Tampons and menstrual cups are brilliant for many women however they require insertion into the vagina which many youngsters may struggle with. By all means discuss them with your child so they understand what they are, but let them know that they're probably more appropriate when they're older.
Period pads are also very popular with new period starters. Traditionally a pack of disposable pads would be the period protection of choice for teens and tweens. However disposable pads can be itchy and uncomfortable and obviously not great for the environment.
Reusable pads are a great alternative for girls. They can use them in addition to period pants if their periods are heavy for extra security.
Generally periods will start around 2 years after your child starts showing signs of puberty. According to NHS England, in the UK the 'average age' for starting periods is between 8 and 15.
Knowing this and seeing the reality is a different thing, as it's still a shock when you realise that your little girl is starting to get hair on their vulva and underarms! Or starting to develop breasts.
It's also important to acknowledge these changes however and start talking about periods and how their body is changing. The Cheeky blog post 'how to help your child with their first period' has more common sense advice.
Like we said earlier, forewarned is forearmed. Don't wait until your tearful daughter approaches you because they think they're dying as they're bleeding in their knickers!
As soon as you see signs of puberty, start the conversation. You might find it useful to have some period products on hand and Cheeky have got a great first period starter kit that I've got for my daughter. It contains a pair of sporty period pants, a reusable pad, wetbag to keep them in and of course a bar of chocolate!
Cheeky have also got a brilliant period hub app on android and apple ios, which is fun, interactive and informative. It will answer many questions and you can walk through it together (and may well learn something yourself!)
Additionally, there are some great books out there for your child, including 'Period' by Emma Bartnett.
If you're parent to a transgender or non-binary child, extra sensitivity and support may be necessary, reassurance and open communication are crucial. Children with autism can also struggle with sensory overload from periods so it's important to consider how you can support your autistic child with periods.
Once your child has started their periods, it's important to chat about any discomfort they may be having and how to manage this.
Have a chat about how to be prepared for their periods at school and have a grab bag packed with period products their schoolbag. It's a good idea to adding some ibuprofen or paracetamol to their bag in case they have period pain or cramps too.
Don't JUST talk to your daughter about periods. It's super important to educate boys about periods too so that they can go on to be supportive brothers, boyfriends and partners.
Explain how it works and the need for empathy and understanding.
Helen did a great job of this with her sons who have spoken up and helped their teen girl friends at school when caught out unexpectedly by period leaks.
As your child approaches puberty and periods starting, they'll need to start taking better care of themselves with independent washing. Some children may welcome the opportunity for more regular showers and baths. Some may still show signs of being a soap dodger!
Talk to your daughter about leaks and how to prevent them and period stains too. It's also important to understand vaginal discharge which is perfectly normal but can discolour underwear. Explain that keeping some reusable intimate wipes on hand may help them keep feeling fresh during their cycle.
Knowing exactly where to place soiled or used period items for washing or disposal can really help reduce the embarrassment factor.
Helping your child navigate their way through periods can seem challenging, especially as you aren't biologically equipped in the same way. But with understanding and support, it becomes an opportunity to strengthen your bond.
As always, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact Team Cheeky via email or complete a period questionnaire. The team are all parents to teens, use the products themselves and LOVE to help people make the switch to reusable period products. Nothing is TMI and there are no stupid questions!
About the Author: Pete Jelley loves living in Corby, Northamptonshire and has been single parent to his 12 year old daughter for several years. He prides himself on their close relationship and supporting her to become an even more fabulous adult.
When he's not working in his day job of property renovation and development, Pete has an encylopedic knowledge of cars and loves watching F1. He considers himself a nuts and bolts man and frequently comes to the rescue when neighbours have DIY disasters!