Dad Guide: Menstruation

The other day my seven year old and I were out grocery shopping and as I was looking for kleenex, she was examining the ‘feminine hygiene’ products. When I saw what she was looking at I mostly spent the rest of my kleenex search hoping no questions about tampons or menstruation pads would come my way.

Apparently I didn’t hope strong enough.

Puberty is coming to my house in the not so distant future, and with three daughters, menstruation is going to be something that happens in my house. I want my daughters to know that I am available to them as a resource and support as they go through this major change in their bodies. I also want them to know that what is happening is a natural process and that in spite of many cultural and social teachings, there is nothing shameful about their periods.

I can say this as a man who has never had to experience a period or the cramping and mood swings that can come with menstruation for some women. I have never had to consider whether to wear light coloured pants given the time of the month. I have never had to worry about what I might be doing when my period starts. I think the menstruation cycle is amazing.

I think it is incredible that women’s bodies are built to create, house and deliver new humans. I hope to share some of that fascination and appreciation for that fantastic ability with my daughters so that I can offer a counter balance to the advertising and frankly the teen boys who will think that a woman who is menstruating is somehow unclean.

When my daughter asked me what those products were that she was looking at, I told her that women used them when they had their period to help catch the blood. Since we had already had conversations about puberty, she knows about menstruation – conceptually anyway. It certainly made that particular conversation easier since she already had the foundation knowledge.

I know that not all dads are as comfortable with menstruation and sexual health education as I am. I have the benefit of ten years experience as a volunteer sexual health educator. As males we often get limited education on women’s bodies and the female reproductive system. Even when it is good quality sexual health education, we don’t live it. We don’t know how it feels physically or emotionally.

So for all my fellow dads out there, this is the first in a four part series on menstruation, feminine hygiene products (menstrual pads & pantyliners, tampons & cups) and how to talk with and support our daughters through puberty. This post will give you the information you need in order to be able to explain the biological process of menstruation and what your daughter may experience.

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Dads get questions about menstruation and puberty from their daughters. Many of us don't know how to answer them. Click To Tweet

How Menstruation Works

We all generally know the basics:

  • Every month a woman’s body builds up a lining on the wall of her uterus. This lining is largely made of blood and is there to provide support to a new embryo if she becomes pregnant.
  • If a woman is not pregnant then her body will shed the lining every month on a fairly predictable basis.
  • That lining is the menstrual blood and it will exit the woman’s uterus through her cervix (the opening between the uterus and the vagina) and out of her body through her vagina.
  • This is what we call menstruation or a period.

Image of the Female Reproductive System, Dad Guide: Menstruation

Every Woman is Different

In addition to the basics, there are several things to be aware of:

  • Every woman is different
  • The basics above assume that the woman is not taking any birth control and does not have any health conditions that may impact her menstrual cycle, and that she is not menopausal
  • Every woman is different
  • There are hormonal birth controls (the pill, the patch, the shot, Intrauterine System (IUS), etc.) that can be used to regulate the frequency of menstruation and the length of the monthly cycle. A woman using a contraceptive pill might choose to skip a period by skipping the week in her cycle when she would normally use placebos or take no pills at all. Women who have an IUS inserted into their uterus will often experience no menstruation or very little while it is in place – generally for a period of up to five years.
  • Every woman is different
  • Some women will experience heavy bleeding and others will experience minimal bleeding
  • Every woman is different
  • The average size of a uterus that is not in use by an embryo or fetus is about the size of your fist – contrary to the sex-ed pictures showing the uterus taking up the entire female abdomen.
  • Every woman is different
  • The average amount of menstrual blood that is released during the menstruation period is about one half cup.
  • Every woman is different
  • A woman’s period generally lasts 3 -7 days depending on the woman.
  • Every woman is different
  • Some women experience severe cramping in relation to their period.
  • Every woman is different
  • Some women experience changes in their mood related to their menstrual cycle.
  • Every woman is different
  • Women can still get pregnant if they have sexual intercourse during their period.
  • EVERY WOMAN IS DIFFERENT
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What is the Menstrual Cycle?

Most women – remember, every woman is different – will settle into a regular menstrual cycle that is predictable. Most teens will experience irregularity during puberty while their body sorts itself out. The average cycle is around 28 days, with ranges between 21 and 35 days in adults. Teens may experience cycles that range from 21 to 45 days.

Menstrual Cycle Phases

Menstruation is just the first phase of the cycle.

In the second phase, known as the follicular phase, the estrogen in a woman’s body will trigger the process of thickening the uterine walls in anticipation of ovulation and pregnancy. In this phase the ovaries also get ready to do their work of releasing an egg when the time is right.

The third phase is the ovulation phase in which the ovaries will release one – and sometimes more – ova (eggs). The egg(s) will then travel through the fallopian tube over a period of three to four days into the uterus where it will hang out to meet some sperm and getting fertilized. If the egg is fertilized it will implant in the uterine lining in the fourth phase. If it doesn’t get fertilized within about 24 hours, the egg will start to break down. The ovulation phase typically takes place 11 to 16 days before the next period.

The fourth and final stage of the cycle is called the luteal phase. In this phase the body produces estrogen and heavy doses of progesterone hormones to prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg available in stock, the uterus starts to shed the lining and the cycle starts again with the menstruation period.

This guide for dads with daughters will help to answer questions about menstruation. Click To Tweet

PMS

PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome is a combination of symptoms such as cramping, pain, tenderness, emotional swings, bloating, skin problems such as acne. Basically it is an unpleasant combination of things that 75% of women experience to varying degrees – every woman is different. Sometimes symptoms can be managed with regular sleep, exercise, changes in diet and stress levels. In other cases medication may be required to help manage symptoms, particularly pain.

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Menstrual Cramping and Pain

Most women will experience menstrual cramping as their bodies shed the uterine lining and through the menstruation period. Some women experience severe pain and cramping. In some cases, the pain can indicate a health issue related to the reproductive organs. Some women are able to alleviate their pain with massage,warm baths, heating pads, stretching and / or pain medicine. If these techniques do not help to make the cramping and pain manageable and tolerable, it might be a good idea to take your daughter to see a doctor.

Heavy Bleeding

Some women experience heavier than average bleeding. If the heavy bleeding is persistent it is a good idea to visit a physician.

Talking to Your Daughter about Menstruation

Now that you have the basic details on menstruation, you have the information you need to talk with your daughter about menstruation. The next post in this series is focused on how to talk with and prepare your daughter for menstruation as she enters puberty and how to support her throughout puberty and beyond. The third and fourth pieces cover menstrual pads & pantyliners and tampons & menstrual cups.

Questions?

Please let me know if you have any questions or topics you would like to see addressed in this series and the e-book. Submit them in the comments below or by email to dadgoesround (at) gmail.com.

Get the Dad Guide: Your Daughter and Her Period E-Book

Sign up below to get the free .pdf copy of all of the posts in this series combined with ‘How to talk with your kids about sex and sexual health’.  It and other upcoming Dad Guide e-books will only be available to newsletter subscribers. In addition to the content about menstruation and how to talk with your daughter, there is information about all the different feminine hygiene products and options available so that you can help your daughter make decisions about which of the dizzying array of choices are right for her.

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Dad Guide to Menstruation | Dad Goes Round | The first in a series for dads of daughters. This one covers the basics of the menstrual cycle.

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  1. Pingback: Dad Guide: Your Daughter's Period - Dad Goes Round

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  3. Sharing all of these posts because having a dad who is supportive and knowledgeable as you start your periods is so important to young women! My own dad was very good about it, he bought me pads and tampons, when I called crying about a leak at school he drove over with clothes and extra tampons, and he knew that my cramps felt better hitting bumps on the car ride home (not for all girls!).

    So dads, read this guide and talk to you daughter. Helping her out with menstruation related things will be something she remembers and is thankful for her whole life.

      • I think the biggest thing he did was never make me feel embarrassed about it. Even on the days when I called him crying, he would just say “Okay honey, I will be there in a few minutes. Give the phone to the secretary.” Then he would be there. With everything I could need and then some. And he would give me a hug to calm me down.

        Being there, not being scared of periods, and learning about it will help your daughters so much.

        • Thanks. I hope that this series helps dads get the information they need so that they can feel comfortable and prepared to be helpful. Putting it together has certainly helped me feel more prepared!

  4. Pingback: How to talk with your kids about sex and sexual health