Menarche marks the time in a girl's life during which she gets the first period of her life and therefore enters the reproductive age. In older times, girls between 14-18 would attain menarche, while this age has shifted to 11-16 in girls in present times.
As girls mature into women, it is natural to see them start experiencing symptoms associated with menstruation. While some women might experience the physical manifestations of a menstrual cycle, some may experience the emotional effects while others might experience both or none.
India has always been a country that has shied away from discussions about sex, sexuality, sex education, and the human body. Even when the conversations are related to sexuality or the reproductive system, not enough gets discussed, or conversations go dead when the topic arises.
But this does not stop young girls and boys from maturing, entering puberty, and reaching reproductive age. And when they do, young children have many questions, and they start looking for answers. The first place they might go to look for answers is their parents, and only if parents support these discussions with enthusiasm and comfort will the child not look in other places.
This is where you as a parent must step in.
As a parent, here are some things you can do to ease your daughter into menarche.
- Do not wait for "the" moment to arrive to have the talk. Start talking to your children from an early age so they know what they can expect.
- Spread the conversation over small talk instead of bombarding her with all information all at once.
- Notice when she enters puberty.
- Prepare her by showing her how to use a pad, just in case, she attains menarche when you are not around.
- Take the initiative to discuss things, and do not wait for your child to ask. They might never ask if you do not initiate.
- Have resources like books and videos that might help them understand better.
Hormonal Shift During Menstruation
Scientists have been studying why menstruation causes certain bodily and mental changes in women for a long time. Studies have revealed that the hormonal changes that a woman's body goes through, could be the cause of physical discomfort and state of mind during menses.
A menstrual cycle lasts for about 28 days in most women (variability is common). During this time, the estrogen levels start rising right after the period stops and keep rising until ovulation. Once the luteal stage starts - the day after ovulation to the 28th day, the estrogen falls steeply. This fall in estrogen also affects the level of serotonin, the hormone that influences a person's state of mind.
What are the Physical Changes During Menstruation?
During menstruation, a woman's entire body and not only her reproductive system go through a lot of changes.
While there is a lot of science involved in the way menstruation works, here are some common symptoms that women may experience during and before they start menstruating.
- Abdominal cramps
- Breast tenderness
- Breakouts of acne
- Bowel issues
- Leg cramps
- Water retention or bloating
Some women may start experiencing these symptoms a week or two before their period begins, and others might experience it just before and during the period, while some may not experience them.
Before girls attain menarche, these signals especially abdominal cramps, backache, and leg cramps may indicate that menarche is about to begin.
What are the Emotional Effects of Menstruation?
The emotional effects of menstruation can be characterized by mood swings in women a week or two before menstruation begins and is termed PMS or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. PMS also has physical symptoms, all of which have been mentioned above.
Women with severe PMS often suffer from PMDD or Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. This condition is much more severe than PMS and can lead to lasting depression, anxiety or panic attacks, and extreme behaviors.
These mental conditions are directly related to the rising and falling levels of hormones in the body which cause mood swings.
Common symptoms of PMS can be
- Anxiety and panic
These symptoms usually start appearing during the luteal phase, during the two weeks after ovulation and subside almost completely as soon as the period begins.
Studies have shown that girls with early-onset of menarche are more likely to suffer from PMS than girls who have delayed menarche.
During PMS, a woman may go through variable mood changes in just a few hours. Women suffering from PMDD however, have often been found to have other underlying mental health issues along with PMDD that worsen during periods.
How Can One Relieve the Physical and Emotional Symptoms of PMS?
Different remedies work for each woman. However, we have noted the most common ones below.
- Physical Activity
- Magnesium and Calcium-Rich Diet
- Consumption of Complex Carbohydrates
- Reduced Intake of Sugar, Salt, And Fat
- Smaller Meals Throughout the Day
1) Physical Activity
Daily exercise can do wonders to reduce PMS symptoms by increasing the flow of blood throughout the body and releasing happy hormones.
Exercising releases endorphins and serotonin which are the feel-good hormones that elevate mood and also reduce the feeling of pain during menstruation.
Encourage your daughter to lead an active lifestyle and set a good example by exercising regularly.
2) Magnesium and Calcium-Rich Diet
Studies have shown that women who took daily doses of magnesium and calcium supplements combined with vitamin B6 saw a decrease in the intensity of their PMS symptoms including cramps, anxiety, depression, bloating, and breast tenderness. Along with supplements, green leafy vegetables, animal protein, and legumes are also good sources of magnesium and calcium.
Provide a well-balanced nutritious diet and opt for magnesium and calcium supplements to help reduce the symptoms.
3) Consumption of Complex Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates contain lesser sugar than simple carbohydrates and cause a release of serotonin soon after consumption. Simple carbohydrates may cause sugar levels to fall drastically a few hours after consumption which causes irritability, and depressive symptoms and makes you crave unhealthy fats and sugars.
4) Reduced Intake of Sugar, Salt, and Fat
Sugar, salt, and fat can exacerbate the intensity of PMS symptoms and cause bloating, a dip in serotonin levels, and cravings for salt and sugar as their levels in your body fall. This same dip in serotonin also makes you crave sugar and salts during your luteal phase.
Encourage your daughter to drink enough water every day and ensure they consume green leafy vegetables and complex carbs to keep the cravings at bay.
5) Smaller Meals Throughout the Day
Instead of having two-three large meals a day, break down meals into 5-6 smaller meals. It makes digestion easy and also maintains a balance in blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels fall, one may experience cravings, mood swings, and irritability. It might also increase cravings for unhealthy snacks in between meals.
It is perfectly normal for young girls attaining menarche to experience some or all of these symptoms, and it is quite possible to treat them naturally.
In case you would like to talk to our experts, you can also access them through our platform.
The Bottom Line:
While these are things your daughter should know as she attains menarche, it is also important for your son to be aware of menstruation so that he has a healthy understanding of the happening. Create a comfortable atmosphere where your children can come to you with questions instead of looking in the wrong place.
A very important point to remember is that if you show menstruation in a negative light and call it things like a curse to women, or a time when women are considered impure, it will create a negative image in your child's mind as well.
Set a positive image in your child's mind and set a good example where they can acknowledge these changes as stages of their life and nothing else.