Pads, tampons, liners, period cups, sea sponges... the list goes on!
Eventually a time comes when you need to think about what menstruation products (or menstrual products) you need to get for your daughter's periods. By menstrual products, I mean something that will absorb menstrual blood ie pads, tampons, period cups,and sea sponges.
There are many names for menstruation.... periods, menses, your rags, your monthlies, that time of the month, the list goes on.....
But for this article, I'm just going to refer to them as 'periods'.
You'll find more information about puberty (and periods) in my Puberty 101 page.
Menstruation products galore!
Walk down the 'feminine hygiene' aisle of any supermarket, and you will be surprised by the wide range of menstruation products that are now available.
It can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you are a dad, who won't have any personal experience of using these sorts of things. And if you are a mum, it is highly likely that you won't have used a pad for a long time, or are using menstrual products that just aren't suitable for a young girl who is just starting out.
So don't be surprised if you stand there in the menstrual products aisle and feel totally overwhelmed by how many different types of pads and tampons you can now find in the menstrual products aisle of the supermarket.
For a product that just absorbs blood, it has become very complicated! I'm not a coffee drinker, so for me, it feels a bit like ordering coffee at a coffee shop! Very overwhelming and tempting to just walk out and leave it for another day!
There are a lot of menstrual products out there, but at the end of the day, it is just about pads and tampons.
Or period pants - which I think are the best invention in the world!
They are so good that I'll talk about them first!
If you are looking at getting ready for your daughter's first period, you will be starting with pads. They are the easiest of the menstrual products, for a beginner to use!
Pads are literally that ie a pad. They are a wad of something absorbent that is placed inside your underpants and absorbs blood as it comes out of the vagina.
Choosing pads nowadays is no longer simple. There are a lot more options to choose from today. Your daughter will need to experiment with some different types until you work out which ones are the most comfortable for your daughter.
The different options with pads include:
Pads are usually held in place by a sticky adhesive strip underneath the pad (that you place on your pants - not you). The wings, that come with many pads, are also adhesive and are there to help keep the pad in place (fold the wings down to the outside of the pants).
It is a good idea to get your daughter to practice wearing pads on the weekends, just to get her used to putting them on and in wearing them.
There are lots of different types of pads available, with some that are more environmentally friendly and safer for girls to use ie less bleach, perfumes, etc.
Cloths pads are specially made fabric pads that can be washed after each use and reused when dry.
They come in a range of different fabrics and designs and work just like regular pads.
After using them, they can be rinsed out and washed with your everyday clothing.
They also make them in teen sizes (which is the size I have photographed).
Are they a good choice when it comes to menstruation products for young girls? It depends on if they girls change them and store the used pad discretely whilst at school. Personally, I haven't used cloth pads so I am unsure about how easily they leak through to the underpants. If i was buying them for my daughter, I would asking the supplier that question, and possibly only buying a small number to start with (and trialling them at home first). Girls are very frightened about leaking, so you want to make sure that they have a product that will minimise leaks.
For reusable and environmentally friendly menstruation products, cloth pads are a viable option. Plus they are so pretty and colourful!
JuJu make a cloth pad that is very comfortable to wear with good absorbency.
You can find lots of tween and teen sized cloth pads on Etsy, with makers from all over the world.
Here's some super cute ones that are suitable for tweens and teens.
If you don't wear pads yourself anymore, it is a good idea to buy some and try them out again for a period or two. This is a great way to refresh the memory on what they are like to use, and also gives you some personal experience on which to base your advice! We all have favourite menstruation products that we tend to use, and what you like may not necesaarily be the best choice for your daughter.
It may take a while to work out what size, style and brand your daughter prefers. Just keep experimenting until you find the ones that she likes. Libragirl do a teens brand, and you will find plenty of options down the menstrual products aisle at the supermarket.
You'll need a range of absorbencies with these types of menstruation products. Some girls bleed lightly and evenly over 5 days. Some start light, bleed heavy for 1-2 days, and finish by day 3.
Which brand for a young girl who isn't adult sized yet? In Australia, LibraGirl do a teen sized pad (I have looked but can find no other brand that markets a young girl/teen size). They are slightly narrower (10mm) than a standard libra pad but the same length.The slightly narrower width may make a difference for some girls. Also, nearly all of the menstrual products companies offer free trial/sampler packs - so start ordering the free samples now as it may save you a few dollars!
Johnson & Johnson emailed me back with what they recommend for young girls - 'The pad we recommend for young girls that do not have heavy periods is the STAYFREE* Ultra Thins Lights which come in a pack of 16.'
Wear pads with firm underwear so the pad sits closely to her vulva or she'll get that sagging over full nappy look. You don't want the pad to flap around as leakages are more likely plus it may be more visible through their outside clothing.
I have recently found this great little period resource which would be a good one to print out. You could either read it together with your daughter or just give it to her to read.
You can also buy menstrual products called liners, which are a much smaller and thinner version of a pad.
They are usually worn at the end of a period. Or for those few days before your period is due.
Some women wear them as a daily item but I would discourage young girls from doing this (unless using a cloth or eco liner). The vagina is supposed to discharge and there is never enough discharge for it to be visible through clothing. Plus liners do have things in them that aren't natural, so there is a greater risk of thrush and other vaginal infections.
Here's some handmade cloth liners from Etsy, with some disposable and re-usable options below.
Tampons, just like pads, come in different sizes and absorbencies - slim, regular, super, flexible. Some come with cardboard applicators.
They are inserted into the vagina so that you are left with the string hanging out. The string is then used to pull the tampon out.
Tampons take a bit of practice to get used to using them, so they are not ideal for starting out with. And then there is always the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is uncommon, but still a risk that needs to be discussed.
Personally, I wouldn't even think about buying tampons for a couple of years (unless your daughter swims regularly or is active with sport). Your daughter needs to get used to using pads first and to eventually be more 'vagina friendly' ie quite comfortable with sticking her fingers into her vagina to get tampons in and out. If she can't fully insert her finger into her vagina, then she won't be able to use tampons.
If your daughter needs to start using tampons because of sport, she may be better off starting off with the tampons that come with cardboard or plastic applicators or the tampons with silky covers. You want something that will glide in easily. And make sure your daughter doesn't start practicing with them when she's not menstruating - it will be a very dry and uncomfortable experience!
Also try reflecting back on your own experiences and memories of using tampons for menstruation products. Inserting your first tampon is stressful, and the more you stress, the tighter the pelvic floor muscles become, which means that it is harder to insert the tampon.
And what about the hymen? Well, there is some research that says that the hymen (now called the vaginal corona) which is supposed to cover the entrance to the vagina, doesn't really exist. You can read more about that here and the original report here.
You can also buy reusable tampons that are either crocheted or knitted or out of cotton fabric. Now, I have not used any of these products and I don't know about the risk of TSS with them. So make sure you do your own research first!
Another menstruation products that you may have heard about is the menstrual cup. Menstrual cups are squishy cups that are placed inside your vagina and collect the blood. They don't sit as high up in the vagina, as a tampon would.
Menstrual cups can be a bit tricky to use and take practice. You won't find them in the menstrual products aisle at the supermarket. You will find them in a chemist or online.
Like tampons, I would not suggest these as a first product for girls. They need to be really comfortable with inserting their fingers into their vagina, and with the blood involved. They can be a bit messy to use!
Juju make their menstrual cups in 4 different sizes, with a smaller cup (Model 1) that is often a first cup for many teen girls. So the JuJu period cups are definately worth checking out as the have a cup tos uit almst any type of vagina! It's the brand that I use myself (I like the ethos of the company plus it is a comfortable cup to wear!).
There are many different brands of period cups, with many now being sized for teens (with the ones below all receiving positive feedback).
For a more natural menstruation products, there are sea sponges. Sea sponges can be used as an alternative to tampons or menstrual cups. They are natural sea sponges that are cut into different shapes and sizes. They are used moist, and are inserted into the vagina to absorb blood.
In Australia, sea sponges are no longer sold for the use of tampons, so you need to buy them for another purpose or online. They are not a product that I would recommend for young girls and I would suggest that girls are comfortable with tampons before they even think about using sea sponges. And of course, to find out as much as you can before making a decision about using sea sponges. I found a really nice review about sea sponges for menstruation products here.
Depending on what part of the world you live in, you may be able to order some free period samples. I have asked the parents in my free facebook group, that parent group, if it is a thing in their country, and it only seems to happen in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In the USA, all the period starter kits seem to be paid (not free).
In Australia, Libra Girl offer a free Libra Girl Starter Pack that I was pretty impressed with. My daughter especially liked the cute colourful pen and the case that it came in! It came with 2-3 samples of their age-appropriate liners, pads, tampons and their tampon applicator. (I haven't bought tampon applicators for years but they now come with a plastic applicator!!!!) Their slimline tampons are tiny! Smaller than my little finger!
In Australia, schools or organisations can also order an eco resource kit that contains a menstrual cup, period pants, reusable cloth pads, disposable all-cotton pads and teaching resources from the Sustainable Period Project. This is an amazing resource that a mum shared to me from that parent group.
U by Kotex also have free period kit samples that you can order. You choose a product, with a limit of 4 per household.
Carefree also have free period product samples listed on their site.
You can find free sample period product samples in the United Kingdom from Wow Free Stuff. There is also this school-based Puberty Education Program in the United Kingdom, that provide kits for schools, but I can't find any kits for parents to order for themselves (sorry).
Please do let me know if you learn of any other free period samples, and I will add them to the list.
If you're looking for a book that talks primarily about periods, you will find them in my list of some of the best menstruation (or period) books.
You can find more great books about puberty listed in my Sex Education Books for Children book review page.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.