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A woman's life is made of cycles. The first period occurs during puberty, a sign of entry in the fertility cycle. It’s a natural phenomenon that will accompany you every month, until you are no longer fertile.
But let's go back to the beginning, to understand what's going on in your body...
Puberty, which happens to both boys and girls, is the transition from childhood to adulthood. It usually begins between the ages of eight and fourteen in girls1. It's an important stage in life when the body changes. In girls, puberty is triggered when the brain starts producing hormones that act on the ovaries (the two sexual glands on either side of the uterus). They then begin to produce sex hormones called oestrogen and progesterone. It is these hormones that ‘trigger’ and regulate the menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle is the period between the first day of your period and the first day of your next period. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. It is divided into four phases:
It lasts about 14 days. During this phase, cells called follicles that are present in both ovaries develop under the action of a molecule. At the same time, the lining of the uterus, also known as the endometrium (the outer wall of the uterine cavity) thickens for possible fertilisation.
On the 14th day, one of these follicles reaches maturity and ruptures. It then expels an egg into one of the two fallopian tubes (the uterine tubes that connect each ovary to the uterus). Once emptied, this follicle will then turn into a corpus luteum. We are then in the middle of the menstrual cycle.
It lasts, on average, 10 to 16 days
The corpus luteum, which we have just mentioned, starts to produce a hormone that acts directly on the uterine lining. It will continue to thicken to accommodate a possible future embryo. If the egg is not fertilised by a sperm, the corpus luteum atrophies and progesterone levels drop.
This fall in ovarian hormones causes the thick part of the uterine lining to detach: it is expelled through the cervix and then through the vagina in the form of ‘blood’. Yes, those are your periods!
First periods arrive, on average, at the age of twelve, but this is only an average. They can arrive much earlier or much later without there being any cause for worry. Some girls will have their first period at 9, others at 13. It’s nature that decides.
As you can see, this cycle lasts roughly (this also varies from woman to woman) 28 days. This means that from the moment you have your first period, you will have them (in principle, but there may be exceptions) every 28 days during your fertile life.
These are obviously questions you ask yourself when you've never had your period, since it's not always an easy subject to talk about. Sometimes we even talk about period ‘taboos’. Fortunately, more and more people around the world are talking about them publicly and explaining this phenomenon which, after all, is as natural as it gets!
Periods last, on average, two to seven days (again, this is an average) with a heavier flow at the start. The blood is bright red at the beginning of menstruation and then tends to darken over the days as the flow decreases. There are sometimes small clots that mix with blood: don't worry, this is completely natural.
The amount of blood lost during menstruation varies from 20 to 70 ml2. The average is 50 ml, equivalent - to help you visualise - to ten teaspoons.
During the first cycles, periods are generally less heavy.
To avoid staining your underwear and clothing, there are several solutions that will ‘catch’ the flow of your period and allow you to go to school, go out, play, play sports, run, jump, etc. with confidence.
Among them is the Mini Claricup, developed by Claripharm Lab, which is specially adapted to first periods and light flows. It is a small, soft cup that is inserted into the vagina and collects the flow. Made of antimicrobial silicone, it comes with a disinfection box. It is protection that is both very safe and easy to insert: it does not move once inserted and lets you, for example, play sports in complete security.
You can also use sanitary towels. Sanitary towels are absorbent external protection that are placed directly on your knickers. They come in different sizes, adapted to the volume of your period.
1 - Figures from Inserm (Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche [French National Institute of Health and Medical Research])
2 - Source Larousse médical.