Girl resting in bed with a pink notebook on her chest

Reading and Understanding First-period Symptoms

Anything that you experience for the first time can be both exhilarating and intimidating. Your first day of school, your first crush, your first sleepover—your childhood is full of these memorable moments. But now that you're on the brink of being a young woman, you'll experience even more exciting things, such as your first period.

However, like all your other firsts, your first scarlet day may get you somewhat confused or even nervous. But this definitive marker of womanhood need not give you the jitters. This easy read will help you understand your first-period symptoms so you can savor your earliest menstruation for what it truly is—your special time of the month.

How to tell when your first period is coming? 

It all begins with puberty, that stage in your life when you begin to bloom into a woman. Here, reproductive hormones trigger the process to make your reproductive organs function, your breasts develop, the armpit and pubic area start showing hair, and the hips and thighs become thicker. You may also experience rapid growth spurts. But these signs are just the beginning.

Each of our bodies is unique, which means our menstrual schedules are too. But it's usual for most girls to get their first period around the age of 12 or somewhere between 10 and 15 years old. So although many girls are taken off guard by their first menstrual cycle, you needn't be caught "red-handed." 

Your first menstruation typically happens two years from when your breasts start to develop. You might also notice some vaginal discharge in your undies, like a sticky mucus with a thin or slightly thick consistency. You're likely to experience this anywhere from 6 months to a year before your first period occurs. On top of these, there are a couple of other first-period symptoms to let you know that Auntie Flo will soon be making her debut.

Why do first-period symptoms happen? 

The fluctuating hormones when you undergo your first period can wreak havoc on your physical and emotional condition. Not all girls will go through the entire caboodle, but many will typically experience several of these first-period symptoms.

1. Acne

Estrogen and progesterone are the two main actors in the entire menstrual production (although other hormones play supporting roles). Just before your period starts, the levels of these two hormones drop, setting off oil-producing organs called sebaceous glands. These glands then go into hyper mode, secreting sebum to keep the skin from drying out. Together with dead skin cells, this excess oil can fill up the opening of hair follicles, clogging the pores and causing acne.

2. Headaches/ Nausea/ Vomiting

The dip in estrogen and progesterone before your period also triggers premenstrual headaches. This can make you sick to the stomach, causing you to vomit and become nauseous. At the same time, serotonin, one of the happiness hormones that regulates moods, also declines. With a lower supply of serotonin in the brain, your blood vessels constrict, resulting in headaches.

3. Fatigue 

The plunge in serotonin before your period is also associated with fatigue. This can drain your energy, like a car running out of gas all the time. Additionally, your aches and pains from your first-period symptoms can also keep you moving and turning all night, making you physically exhausted the next day. Body temperatures may also increase ahead of your mense, which can cause further discomfort and sleeping issues.

4. Sore breasts 

The rise and fall of hormones before the menstrual cycle may also lead to swelling of the breast tissues. Estrogen enlarges the breast ducts that carry milk to the nipples. Progesterone also helps out by increasing the milk glands. These preps anticipate the possible feeding of an infant, should pregnancy and birthing occur.

5. Constipation 

As progesterone builds up before ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg for fertilization), this may put a brake on your bowel movement. This can cause constipation before and during menstruation. However, a study shows that it's estrogen that may really be at fault. The contrasting finding indicates that the hormone can hold up gastric emptying, where the body moves stomach contents to the small intestine for digestion. When this process is delayed, constipation may result.

A woman in pain due to menstrual cramps

6. Menstrual cramps/ Leg pain/ Back pain

During menstruation, prostaglandins join the hormonal jam session. They aren't exactly hormones but are compounds that act like the latter, effecting changes in the body during the menstrual cycle. These chemical messengers cause the uterus to contract, so the body can get rid of the uterine lining when pregnancy doesn't happen. If there's too much prostaglandins, menstrual cramps may extend to nearby areas such as the lower back and legs.

7. Diarrhea

The surge in prostaglandin production can also induce diarrhea. Excessive levels can get into the bloodstream and be transported to the different body parts, such as your bowels. Your bowels essentially consist of your small intestine, your rectum (where poop is stored), and your anus (the rectal opening where waste comes out). The prostaglandins can then induce the bowels to contract and expel their contents (similar to what it does with the uterine lining), and this causes diarrhea.

8. Emotional changes

Hormonal shifts also occur during the luteal phase, the second half of the menstrual cycle, when your ovaries have already released an egg, but before your period begins.  At this point, your progesterone and estrogen levels drop and then rise again in preparation for the expected fetus. This irregular pace just before your period can make you feel "extra"—but not in a good way. You can become sensitive, irritable, anxious, and even depressed beyond what's normal to you. The fluctuating hormones also trigger the decline in the pleasure hormones serotonin and dopamine, affecting existing mental conditions.

9. Food cravings

Your swinging hormones may also trigger a more than usual desire for cookies, cakes, and candy before your period. At the same time, your body may desire these starchy carbs and sweets to boost your mood, especially when you're generally feeling out of sorts.

How to manage first-period symptoms

Now that you have a clearer picture of what first-period symptoms to expect and their causes, you should be able to deal with them more confidently. Here are a few tips to help you effectively manage your first-period symptoms and better navigate your feminine journey.

1. Consult your doctor.

First-period symptoms won't usually require a visit to your physician. However, see one or ask a trusted adult if you need to consult with your doctor if:

  • You're bleeding beyond seven days or losing too much blood or more than 30 to 40 milliliters (about 2 to 3 tablespoons). Some studies even stretch this to as much as 60 milliliters (4 tablespoons)
  • You feel lightheaded or dizzy. 
  • You're palpitating like crazy. A rapid heartbeat may come with hormonal fluctuations. However, visit a doctor ASAP if you also feel short of breath or have chest pains.
  • Your cramps and other aches and pains are so severe that they already disrupt your daily activities.
  • You still don't have your period at 15.

2. Take pain relievers.

Relieve menstrual cramps with over-the-counter medications, such as Ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, but see a doctor if you plan on taking any. However, you may want to go easy on the pills since excessive amounts can cause health problems, such as stomach ulcers, acid reflux, and digestive issues.

3. Raise the temp!

Apply heating pads to alleviate your aches and pains, especially on your abdomen and lower back.

4. Soak in a warm bath.

This helps ease tensions that can aggravate your first-period symptoms.

5. Eat and drink your way out of first-period symptoms.

  • Drink lots of water. Dehydration can worsen your first-period symptoms.
  • Consume water-rich fruits like watermelons and cucumbers to stay hydrated. These sweet treats can also help curb sugar cravings.  If you can't resist chocolate, pick the iron- and magnesium-rich dark variety.
  • Eat leafy green vegetables like kale, collard greens, and cabbage (for iron), chicken meat for protein (ditch the skin, please!), fish like salmon, and mackerel (protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids). Omega-3s can also help control mood swings and relieve depression. 
  • Ditch the coffee (which can cause diarrhea) and alcohol (add to dehydration and digestive issues).
  • Also, avoid salty, sugary, and spicy foods that can intensify the effects of first-period symptoms.

6. Practice sleep hygiene. 

Craft a bedtime routine that allows you to go to bed and get up at consistent hours. Get at least seven to eight hours of quality shut-eye.

7. Do light exercises.

Light exercises like yoga and walking can stimulate blood circulation and reduce cramps.

8. Get ready with a menstrual bag, like Ruby Love’s first-period kit.

A first-period kit can help you prepare for your red-letter day anytime it happens. This bag should include your menstrual paraphernalia of choice, such as a pad or tampon and fresh period panties

Stay confident and carefree with Ruby Love period apparel. Our Teen Period Underwear,  such as the Blueberry Stripe Hipster or Licorice Polka Hipster, uses state-of-the-art Dri-Tech Mesh technology to help stop all front, side, and back leaks. Additionally, unlike other brands, our period panties don't require a tampon or pad—they can be worn all on their own, making that time of the month much more effortless. So celebrate your first period, and each one after, with Ruby Love. Shop our cute collection today!

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