Child & Adolescent Development: Puberty
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Information for Girls; Managing Menstruation and other Vaginal Discharge

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Pubescent girls need to learn how to cope with the unprecedented event of their first menstrual periods and other vaginal discharge. Girls may be more comfortable talking with female adult relatives, like moms, aunts, grandmothers, or older sisters, about their periods, but male caregivers can also help their young women to adjust to this experience. As is the case with boys' spermarche, there are some aspects of menarche that may be very sensitive and potentially embarrassing to girls and their caregivers alike. Despite this discomfort, it is nevertheless helpful if parents or caregivers convey some basic information on how to handle menstruation while respecting the child's sense of privacy and dignity.

serious teen girlOne sensitive issue is the decision whether to use tampons (which are inserted internally into the vagina to "catch" the menstrual flow) versus pads (which are attached to underpants and absorb the flow after it has exited the vagina. Caregivers will want to educate girls regarding the advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of product. Additionally, pads and tampons both come in different absorbencies and styles which are appropriate to different circumstances. For instance, overnight pads are longer and more absorbent, while pads with "wings" protect panties, and tampons come with, and without applicators to aid their insertion. Caregivers will want to educate girls about the advantages of different products so that they can learn to manage their varying menstrual flow across their full cycle.

Caregivers should also provide education and guidance about the proper care and use of feminine hygiene products: how to comfortably insert tampons, how often to change pads and tampons, and how dispose of them properly. It is particularly important for caregivers to educate their girls about possible health risks associated with improper tampon or pad usage, including toxic shock syndrome, unpleasant odors, and the signs and symptoms of vaginal infection. Young women may also find it comforting to know that while it is quite normal for girls' early menstrual flow to vary unpredictably in terms of frequency, duration, and magnitude, over time, their menstrual periods will develop a fairly predictable pattern.

While young women will quickly become expert at knowing what combination of pads and tampons, and which styles and absorbencies, best fit their needs at different times in their cycle, there will also be inevitable times when clothing gets messy. As is the case with boys, young ladies will feel a greater sense of control and will be best able to preserve their privacy if they have already learned how to properly pre-treat and launder blood-stained clothing and bed linens. More detailed information on this subject can be found in our separate section on Teaching Girls How to Manage Menstruation.

 




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