No matter if you are still waiting for your first period or if you have been menstruating for a few years now, finding blood in your pants while at school is often inconvenient, especially if you (and your school) are not prepared for it. Here are five tips for how to deal with an unexpected period at school, or in any other public setting.
One note: These instructions apply to schools in the US, Canada, and some European countries — access to menstrual products varies widely across the world. What’s your personal experience of getting your period at school? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram.
1. Know that it’s OK—this has happened to most people who menstruate
If you do get an unexpected period at school and are not prepared, there is no need to panic. You are not the first and definitely not the last in this situation.
What’s important now is to make you feel comfortable with the situation. A big part of that is making sure your blood is collected in a way that makes you feel comfortable—that means getting some supplies.
2. Get supplies that you feel comfortable using
Schools usually stock their menstrual products in two places: the girls’ bathrooms (either in free-for-all baskets or in small change vending machines) and the nurse’s office. (Some schools may not have a nurse’s office or health office.)
If you are in class, ask to be excused to the bathroom or the nurse’s office. Ask a friend who menstruates if they have an extra pad or tampon you could borrow. If they don’t, grab some small change just in case you need to use a vending machine to purchase supplies. If your teacher asks what’s happening and you don’t feel comfortable discussing your period in front of others (no need to feel bad about your body doing its thing, but it’s a subject that may take getting used to!), “stomach problems” are a good go-to.
There are plenty of collection methods you can use. The two you are most likely to encounter are pads and tampons. Pads are the simplest to use and are most often available in school nurses’ offices—all you need to do is place one with the sticky side on your underwear and you’re good to go. Tampons are also frequently available. There is a bit of a learning curve involved with tampons, because they need to be inserted into your vagina. But many people prefer them, so if you feel comfortable, you can give them a shot.
An increasingly popular method of managing your flow is the menstrual cup. It’s reusable and needs your attention even as rarely as every 12 hours, so it’s a favorite of many, but it might take a few tries to figure out just how to use it, as one of our colleagues can confirm.
Regardless of which type of period product you decide to go with, a friend, the school nurse, or your parent will be able to demonstrate how to use it correctly.
If you notice period stains on your clothing, pre-wash them with cold water and soap as soon as you can—either still in school or once you get home for the day. Blood is a hard substance to clean off many textiles after it dries, so quick action gives you better chances of getting the stain out completely in the washing machine later. However, if a garment remains stained, don’t worry about it too much. Many people have a few pairs of battle-worn “period panties.” These undergarments may be dotted with lighter spots from discharge or dark splatters of blood that just aren’t going away, but they are comfortable and a perfect choice for heavier flow days or days when you expect that your period may start.
Once your pad, tampon, or other menstrual product is in place and you feel comfortable, you can continue with your day as normal. Check back every few hours to make sure you don’t need to change your product or adjust it.
3. Prepare for next time
Before your next period comes, stock up on whatever collection methods you use and make sure you have a few spare pads or tampons (or a clean menstrual cup) in each backpack and purse that you take with you most often. They will be a good backup option in case your school’s bathroom stash runs out.
If you use non-disposables like period panties, or washable cotton pads to manage your bleeding, remember to also bring a resealable bag or container you can store used ones in with you in case you would need to change them during the day.
An extra precaution against ruining your day’s choice of bottoms is to keep a spare pair of underwear stashed away in your backpack or locker.
4. Find out how period friendly your school is
Not every school is period-friendly. While some schools will have free-for-all stacks of tampons and pads in bathrooms and ibuprofen available upon request in case of cramps, others might be much more limiting.
Know where and if the school stocks period supplies in case you (or a friend) need an emergency pad or tampon in the future. Are they free, is there a limit on how many you can take, do they tend to run out? It is better to know all of this before it is needed.
Do you need painkillers to deal with cramps? Be sure to check your school’s code of conduct—you might have to have a permission slip from your parents or guardians saying that you can have them with you and take them without parental supervision.
Some schools allow students who have their period or are experiencing bad cramps to skip gym class or to work out at their own pace instead of joining the rest of the group. Find out if that is the case for your school and whom you should inform if you would need to be excused from working out on a given day.
5. Look out for your friends
Be kind and helpful to friends and classmates who end up in a similar predicament. Offer a tampon or pad and help normalize periods and menstrual health in your group of friends.
If you see blood on someone else’s pants or skirt, let them know discretely about the situation. If it is their first period, take them to the nurse or bathroom and lend them some period supplies if needed. You are in this together, so look out for each other!
Bonus tip: Get to know when your period is due.
Your period can be irregular for the first couple of years, and may feel different cycle to cycle. This is 100% normal. However, if you track your symptoms and your period regularly, you may be able to identify telltale signs of your period approaching.