When and how to talk to a preteen girl about her first menstrual cycle are questions most parents or caregivers struggle with. Although some families find this a difficult subject to discuss, it’s important to make sure your daughter is prepared for the physical and emotional changes she will undergo. Understanding what is happening to her body will help her feel more positive about those changes and will help her avoid embarrassing situations. She may already have talked about this topic with her friends or an older sister but that doesn’t mean she has all the information she needs.

Share the Facts

Your blind or low vision daughter may be less likely than other girls her age to notice the changes in physical development that she and others are beginning to undergo, and she may need some more detailed explanations if she can’t see the pictures and diagrams in the typical books for teens and preteens. Many girls are shy about asking for details, so for all these reasons, it is important for you to broach the subject.

You will probably want to start by explaining that the changes her body is going through, such as the development of breasts and growth of underarm and pubic hair, mean she is beginning to grow up and develop into a woman who will eventually be able to have children. You can explain that menstruation, more commonly referred to as having a period, is the monthly bleeding from the vagina that will signal the beginning of her fertility, or the ability to become pregnant. Your daughter will need to know both the informal and proper names for the reproductive parts of her body, including her vagina, uterus, and ovaries, and the purpose of each part in the monthly cycle. Be sure she understands the relationship between menstruation and the potential for becoming pregnant.

Talk with your daughter about what to expect as her body gets ready to menstruate each month. Some girls experience emotional ups and downs before or during menstruation, and it is normal to have abdominal cramps or discomfort such as tenderness in her breasts, bloating, headaches, or backache at these times. You should also point out that she may never have any of those symptoms, so that she doesn’t become apprehensive. On the other hand, if these symptoms are particularly uncomfortable, medication is available and it is important to discuss dosage and how to label medication.

You will want to show your daughter the paraphernalia used during menstruation. Give her a sanitary pad or napkin to feel so she gets a sense of its shape and texture while you’re explaining how she will wear it to absorb the blood. You can also show her a tampon and menstrual cup, allowing her to feel them and learn how they work. She’ll need a more detailed description before trying to use one because these aren’t as self-explanatory as pads.

There are many books you can give your daughter to read, and you can also ask your family doctor or nurse to help you describe the process.

When to Start

Since it is normal for girls to start menstruating anywhere between 9 and 15 years of age, it would be a good idea to ask your family doctor or nurse when they predict your daughter will begin having her period. Your daughter may need some hands-on preparation in addition to the information you’ve given her, so about six months or a year before you anticipate that she will start having her period, consider doing the following:

  • Buy a range of feminine hygiene products to give your daughter so she can become familiar with them. A narrower pad may be more comfortable for her to use initially. Encourage her to practice putting pads on, taking them off, and disposing of them properly. You might even suggest that she have some “practice” periods when she wears sanitary pads for a given time—say, two days—changing them regularly, so she knows the process before having to do it while menstruating.
  • Try covering your eyes and doing the things you’re teaching your daughter. This may give you ideas for suggestions or adaptations that will be useful to her.
  • If you’re unsure that your daughter can manage her menstrual needs independently, talk to her TVI, who will be able to share some ideas and resources with you. Another source of information is the staff of your state’s special school or school for the blind.
  • Also help her put together a kit she can take to school in her backpack that includes extra pads, a change of panties, a washcloth, and some small opaque bags to dispose of used pads.
  • Help your daughter set up a calendar to keep track of her monthly cycle. If she’s not able to see whether she’s spotting, you could suggest that she wear a panty liner two or three days before she expects her period to begin.
  • Initially your daughter may want to change her pad on a schedule—say, every four hours—until she’s able to judge when a change is needed. This may help reduce the chances of stained clothing and the accompanying embarrassment.
  • Sometimes stains can’t be avoided, so show your daughter how to deal with them if they occur. There are several handy products available for removing stains—sticks or sprays that she can keep in her supply kit. Encourage her to ask a friend or her teacher if she’s unsure whether or not she has a stain that’s visible to others.

By being candid, unembarrassed, and supportive, you can make your daughter’s transition from child to young woman a positive experience that creates an even closer relationship between the two of you.