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Periods

An important part of becoming a woman is when you start to have periods, when your menstrual cycles begin and, in a little time, become regular - which is monthly.

The Menstrual Cycle

Each month, an egg is released from an ovary into one of the two fallopian tubes. It then travels down towards the uterus (womb), where the baby would grow. If any sperm were to be present this is where fertilisation (the joining of a sperm and an egg) would take place. During this journey, just in case, the uterus prepares itself for a possible pregnancy and creates a special lining. After about 12 to 16 days, if the egg has not been fertilised, which is usually the case, the lining of the uterus which has been prepared, and the egg itself, is expelled or shed. It is released through the vagina once every month.

The period begins

This process can start at any time between the ages of around 9 and 16. As with everything so personal and individual, it varies from girl to girl. The first time your period happens it can be a bit of a shock. Sometimes the blood released may be brown in colour and only a few spots at first, which then increases to a steadier flow a day or so later, the whole process taking about 5 to 6 days.

You may feel abdominal cramps and suffer headaches, tiredness, loss of concentration, mood swings, a feeling of being bloated and back pains at this time - this is known as PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome). It affects people to varying degrees and can be worse after the age of thirty.

Tampons and sanitary pads

A tampon is a piece of highly absorbent material which is placed inside the vagina during the period to absorb the blood and the lining of the uterus which is being shed. They come in different sizes for varying amounts of flow, which will depend on where you are in your period.

Sanitary pads are placed inside underwear to avoid staining and can be used alone or to catch any blood that escapes the tampon.

How to insert a tampon

Tampons either come with an applicator or without. Without an applicator you have to insert the tampon using your finger to push it up inside the vagina. You shouldn't be able to feel it once it's in. If you can, it is not in far enough or is at the wrong angle. Make sure the string is still dangling outside the vagina so you can remove it easily.

With an applicator, remove the wrapping, insert the tube carefully and while holding the outer tube, push the inside bit, or plunger, into the vagina as far as it will go then remove, leaving the tampon neatly inside and, again, ensuring the string is visible.

How often should you change your tampon?

Tampons and sanitary towels should be changed frequently - depending on the flow, every four to eight hours. Tampons come with different levels of absorbency. If your tampon is fully saturated within four hours, you are probably at a relatively heavy stage of your period and should use a more absorbent tampon.

Toxic Shock Syndrome

This really came about in the 1970s when super-absorbent tampons began to be used. People left them in longer and, if you do that, bacteria can build up and produce a poisonous protein-like fluid that attacks the nervous system. W don't want to alarm you, but to avoid it make sure you change your tampons and sanitary pads regularly.

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