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Illustration by Marta Pucci

Puberty

When will I get my first period?

Your body might give you a few clues.

by Anna Druet, Former Science and Education Manager; and Kat Wenger, Former intern at Clue
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Top things to know

  • If you can, ask your biological mom when she got her first period

  • Pay attention to changes in your nipples, pubic hair, body shape, and the fluid in your underwear

Check out Clue's Complete Guide to Puberty: Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. 

Here’s a summary of what to know about when you might get your first period.

The first step in estimating when you’ll get your first period is to ask your biological mom when it happened to her, if you can.

Beyond that, your body will give you a few signs.

Before you get your first period, you might notice changes in your:

The most important thing to remember is that your body is unique. There is no exact “right” time for anything to happen. Every healthy body has its own pattern and timing. 

Nipples/breasts

Changes to your nipples and breasts may be the first thing you notice.

In the beginning, the small bumps around your nipples become raised. Then, the darker area of your nipples will get bigger and start to puff out—it might even feel like there is a little lump on your chest. These are called breast buds. This can happen on both sides at the same time, or on just one side at first. If it happens on one side, it can take up to 6 months for the other side to catch up (1). 

Most people first get their first period 2–3 years after their breast begin to grow (1, 2). If your breast buds start to grow around age eight or nine, it may take closer to three years for your period to start. If your breast buds develop later than most people in your class, like when you’re 13, it may take less than a year for your period to start (2, 3). 

The shape and height of your body will also be changing around this time. By the time you notice breast buds, your whole body will have already started growing more quickly (4). 

Pubic hair

After breast buds, you may notice the first signs of pubic hair. Just a few long hairs may sprout up at first. You’ll grow more pubic hair with time, and that hair will get curlier, thicker, and spread out towards you thighs (1). 

There is a chance you’ll see some pubic hair before your breasts start to grow, but most people see it the other way around (5).

You probably won’t see any hair under your arms until around the time your period begins, or just before that (5).

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Body shape

Your body’s shape and size also change quickly before your period starts. Your biggest growth spurt may be about six months to a year before your first period (this is the case for most people, but for others, it can be just before, two years before, or even after a first period) (6–8). If you’re tracking your height, and you notice it changes fast and then starts to slow, your first period may be on its way.

Along with changes to your height and weight, it’s also normal for the size of your pants to get bigger as your hips widen (8). Some parts of your body will become fattier and rounder, while other parts stay the same. You might notice this begin around the same time your breast buds start to grow. 

The whole lower area of your abdomen is called your pelvis. Your vagina, uterus and ovaries are in there, and also grow in size (1). The exact timing of your body’s growth will be unique to you.

Vaginal/cervical fluid

Sometime after your breasts start to grow, you may notice a change to the fluid in your vagina, and it may feel a bit wetter than before (9). Some people will notice this about 6–12 months before a first period (10). It will likely be a thin, whitish liquid, and won’t have much of a smell. 

As you get close to your first period, you may be able to notice the fluid from your vagina changing day-to-day. Even if you haven’t had a period yet, this is the beginning of your menstrual cycle, which is way more than just your period.

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Download Clue to track the changes you notice in your cervical fluid.

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The hormones in your body will go up and down each cycle, as your body gets ready to release an egg. This changes the fluid that comes out of your vagina. Sometimes there will be more fluid, sometimes less. The fluid will also look and feel differently at different times in your cycle.

It may look and feel creamy for a couple of days, like a skin moisturizer, or stretchy and clear, like an egg white. For some people, it may be hard to notice these changes until a few cycles after a first period.

Your vagina is self-cleaning, so be sure you only use water on your inner labia or vagina when bathing. 

Going through these changes, or waiting for them to happen, can be exciting and welcomed, or challenging and stressful. It can be especially hard if the changes happen before or after most people in your class.

All of these feelings are normal! If you can, find someone to talk to who’s been through it. You might ask a trusted adult to set up a sharing circle for you and others who are going through similar changes. Sharing stories can be helpful and make you feel more supported. 

Kat, a former Clue intern, shared her personal experience of waiting to get her first period below.

"Periods can be frustrating, messy and sometimes downright painful. Nevertheless, I couldn’t wait to get mine. When I was nine, my mom taught me about periods, but stressed that I shouldn’t expect mine to start any time soon since she had gotten hers later than average. Still, I was determined that that wouldn’t be the case for me.

When I was 10, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, looked down, and finally, a little spot of blood! The wait was over! I was a grownup now, ready to tackle anything! I rushed down the hall to tell my mom who gave me a pad with an unconvinced look on her face. That night I was almost too excited to sleep, knowing what I could tell all my friends in the morning. You can imagine my despair when there was not a hint of red to be seen, only a small cut on my upper thigh. False alarm.

Throughout elementary and middle school I had to sit through various puberty talks and was given countless handfuls of pads and tampons from sex ed teachers “just in case.” I had to watch all of my friends come into school ready to spill the details of where they were and how they felt now that they were “a real woman.” I wasn’t as physically mature as they were but I felt absolutely sure that this milestone would make me fit in again. Days, months and years passed. I watched everyone develop, claim that they had “synced up,” and relate to each other’s symptoms. I felt excluded.

Then, one day, I realized I was the only one left. All of my friends and classmates had experienced a sensation that I couldn’t even fathom. I asked a friend in the grade above me if it felt like peeing and she laughed. I was inconsolable and scared. My mom tried to cheer me up by saying that I shouldn’t want it anyway. I asked my doctor if I was normal. She gave me a year.

A year and a half later, at 14 and a half, I finally got my period. I was alone. I calmly went to my parent’s bathroom and borrowed a pad. It was incredibly anticlimactic. No cake, no congratulations, no profound revelations, just me and some bloody uterine lining.

Looking back, I was lucky. I longed to be a part of a group that was connected by blood, and took no time to appreciate that I didn’t yet have to worry about keeping a supply of menstrual products on hand or learn how to get blood stains out of my underwear. I was simply scared I wasn’t normal. But when it comes to the menstrual cycle, there really is no absolute normal.

The average age for a first period (also called menarche) has been slowly creeping down for years. I wish someone had given me the advice to be patient, appreciate the time you have without it and don’t be afraid to be the last one bleeding. You’ll have, on average, 40 years of getting your period, and an extra year or two won’t make too much difference.

Are you still waiting to get your period? Try not to stress out about it too much. Everyone is different. If you’re worried that your prolonged menarche points to a larger health issue, or you haven’t gotten your period by age 15, then consult your healthcare provider."

Article was originally published July 26, 2017

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