Hesperian Health Guides


Girls start bleeding around age 12, some earlier, some later. For the first year or so, menstruation can be very short, and can also happen on and off instead of once a month. This is normal.

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This means you are a woman now. I will show you how to use a cloth to stay clean. Then we will cook your favorite dinner tonight.

Girls who were never told about menstruation often think something is wrong when their bleeding starts. Girls are more confident and comfortable when they have been told about it and know what to expect.

Menstruation is a sign that a girl can become pregnant. But she can actually become pregnant a few months before her first menstruation, because her ovaries start releasing eggs first. (To learn about pregnancy and family planning methods, see Family Planning.) Even though a girl’s body has the ability to get pregnant, it does not mean that pregnancy is safe for her or that she is ready to be a mother. Teach girls how pregnancy happens and about different family planning methods. Make sure family planning is available to girls.

Every girl needs an adult she trusts or a health worker to talk with about how her body is developing.

Keeping clean during menstruation

All girls and women are more comfortable during their periods when they can stay clean. This helps girls keep going to school and helps all women continue normal activities. Bathing and also changing pads frequently help prevent infection. During your period:

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  • Use clean, dry cloths, sanitary napkins (pads), or tampons, and change them several times a day.
  • Bathe every day and wash the genitals.
  • Wash cloths with hot water and soap, and dry them in the sun if possible before using them again.
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Some girls or women with disabilities may need extra help when they have their period.

Menstruation and daily activities

Different myths exist around the world about menstruation and the things a girl or woman should or should not do during her period. Some of these myths can be harmful and are often used to keep girls and women from taking active roles in their communities. Below are things that are true for all women.

Food: All kinds of food are fine for a woman to eat during her period. If the food is healthy, it is also healthy and safe for her to eat during menstruation. If she has heavy bleeding, eating foods with iron can help prevent anemia.

Exercise: Normal activities and exercise are fine for a woman during her period. Exercising may even help reduce pain or cramping.

Bathing: Bathing while menstruating is healthy. Keeping the genitals clean can help prevent infection.

Sex: A woman can have and enjoy sex during her period. However, if one of the partners has HIV, the risk of infecting the other may be higher.

This page was updated:15 Mar 2018