Starting conversations about periods

This Menstrual Hygiene Day, observed on May 28, #PeriodFriendlyWorld kicked off conversations on social media on menstrual hygiene, doing away with taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation.

Updated - May 31, 2024 12:46 pm IST

Published - May 31, 2024 10:55 am IST

Girls in Mumbai learn about menstrual hygiene at an event in April. Image for representational purpose only. File

Girls in Mumbai learn about menstrual hygiene at an event in April. Image for representational purpose only. File | Photo Credit: Trupti Arekar

Starting conversations about menstruation helps children in more than one way. Delivering a message that leaves no room for doubt, provides them with appropriate information, and reassures them that menstruation is a natural, physiological process helps girls stay prepared but also does away with the fear and misconceptions associated with menstruation.

Menstruation has traditionally been talked about in hushed tones. This Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28), #PeriodFriendlyWorld kicked off conversations on social media on menstrual hygiene, doing away with taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation and access to menstrual products.

Normalising conversations

Normalising conversations around menstruation and educating children should be the way ahead. Jaishree Gajaraj, senior consultant, Obstetrician, and Gynaecologist, MANGAI Women’s Health Exclusive, said that many schools are already holding sessions for children. “We are seeing girls coming of age very early, and due to awareness, we do not see them surprised anymore. Mothers should sit with their children and explain the whole process. They should tell them that it is not necessary that they get periods every month, and it is not necessary that it should stop in three days and could even be longer,” she said.

Sumana Manohar, senior consultant, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Apollo Women’s Hospital, pointed out that educating children both at home and school will help reinforce menstruation as a physiological phenomenon.

Also Read | World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023: What are India’s challenges?

“Let’s look at the age of menarche. The average age is between 10 and 15 years. Both puberty occurring before the age of eight, which is called precocious puberty, and delayed puberty beyond the age of 16 should be evaluated. Mostly, puberty occurs between 10 and 12 years. So, ideally, schools should start educating girls about menstrual hygiene and how it is a normal physiological process when they are in class V. The school environment should be conducive, enabling them to change sanitary pads, and clean toilets are important,” she said.

While the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India maintains that the average age of menarche is 13.5, this is not the case in urban areas, where the average age of puberty is 10.5 to 11.5. Dr. Jaishree Gajaraj added: “The reason is that children are now more obese, as a result of which estrogen production increases and hormonal imbalances are triggered. Lifestyle and food habits are leading to obesity in children.”

There are numerous doubts and concerns surrounding menstruation. But there is no need to worry about a number of things. As Dr. Sumana Manohar puts it: “Irregular periods are quite common in the first three years of menarche. This is not a matter of great concern. Two to three cycles of periods in a year for the first three years, and three to four cycles of periods from the third year are normal as they do not ovulate properly.”

Irregular periods

Anxious mothers taking their daughters to doctors for a number of related issues is quite common. “We see mothers bringing in their daughters for irregular periods. This is not something to worry about. Due to irregular periods, there may be heavy bleeding or pain that can be managed without medications. But, if there is profuse bleeding and unbearable pain, medical attention is required. Some of the main concerns that parents raise are lower abdominal pain and cramps. It is important for mothers to reassure their daughters and there is nothing to be scared about,” she added.

K. Kalaivani, director, Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Government Hospital for Women and Children, said children should be informed that pain or cramps are quite normal on the first and second days of periods, which will then subside. “Some are worried about excessive bleeding. It varies from person to person. They need not worry because it subsides after the third day,” she said.

Stressing hygiene, she said, “Some do not bathe for three days, but that shouldn’t be the case. Personal hygiene is important. Times have changed, and there is better access to sanitary pads with the State government supplying them free to schools. “Vending machines have also come up in a number of places,” she said.

Dr. Jaishree says young children should use regular sanitary pads, while those over 20 years — married or unmarried — can use menstrual cups. “We should tell children that this is a very normal physiological event. It should be taught in a way that in the years to come, children will look at it that way. To enable better orientation towards menstruation, we should educate both girls and boys simultaneously. Parents and older siblings should be encouraged when questions are asked and there should be no secrecy,” she added.

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