Periods 101

We understand that periods can be complicated, or you just want to understand what’s going on down there. Here are some basic Q&As to help you stay ahead of your period.

What is a period and why do we get it?

On average, your first period begins when you’re an adolescent (can be between 10 -15 years old). Your hormones start to change before and during your period (which is why you may find a stray zit or feel strange or irritable). This happens every month and signals your body to prepare an egg and the uterus for pregnancy. If your egg isn’t fertilized by sperm, then it’s shed, and you get your period. So your menstrual cycle is over when your next period begins.

Why is it called a “period,” anyway?

The term “period” dates to 1822 as another way to describe menstruation. It refers to an “interval of time” or a “repeated cycle of events.”

Cycle or period: what’s the difference?

Let’s break it down: the first day of your period is the beginning of your menstrual cycle. Part of your menstrual cycle is something called ovulation that happens approximately 10-15 days after your period starts. An egg matures in your ovary and leaves through the fallopian tube to the uterus. Usually two weeks after ovulation, your period flows from the uterus through the opening of the cervix, through the vagina, and out of your body.

How will I know if I'm getting my period and what is PMS all about?

Before and throughout your period, it’s common to experience Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Many people assume that PMS happens to everyone just before that time of the month, but it’s important to understand the difference between PMS and just having a few premenstrual symptoms. PMS is an actual syndrome. To be diagnosed with it, you must experience a consistent set of premenstrual symptoms that are strong enough to hinder your everyday life, for at least 3 cycles in a row.

PMS symptoms include:

  • Feeling irritable, anxious, depressed or confused
  • Angry outbursts
  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Sore breasts
  • Swollen hands and feet

If you have noticed a distinct pattern of reoccurring symptoms like this for 3 months in a row or longer, speak with your doctor about it so they can rule out all possible causes and help you find the relief you need.

Is the white stuff in my underwear between periods normal?

Yes, it’s completely normal to experience white discharge. It varies throughout your cycle, but it is common to see it around the beginning and end of your cycle. As you approach ovulation (the release of the egg), you may notice mucous down there -- it kind of looks like raw egg white. Your body tends to produce the greatest amount of this type of vaginal discharge on the day of ovulation, so you may want to wear a liner at this time.

What if the white discharge looks or smells “off?”

If you are experiencing a smelly discharge along with itching, soreness, and discomfort in your vagina, it may be a sign of infection and you should go see your doctor.

You may still have questions about your period. We encourage you to speak with your doctor and share your questions with them. Your personal medical practitioner(s) (family doctor, OBGYN, pediatrician, or school nurse) are some of the best resources to explain your period and symptoms in detail, while relating to your personal development.