How do you talk to kids about periods?
How do you talk to kids about periods?
Brianna Bell, our guest blogger today, shares her story of switching to cloth pads and how she shared that experience with her daughters.
“Penny, can you get mommy a pad? I got my period,” I say, hoping she can hear me in the next room where she’s colouring.
“Sure!” She calls back. Her little feet pound on the kitchen linoleum, and then I hear her running up the stairs to my stash of cloth pads.
She returns with one heavy pad and one light pad, a triumphant look on her rosy-cheeked face. She passes me both, and then rushes off to return to her colouring.
I don’t think there has been a time that Penny, now almost seven, has not known what a period is. My oldest of three daughters, she was born curious and inquisitive, and I have always been happy to answer the questions she has.
I have made the choice to invite my children into my reproductive health journey, offering age appropriate explanations and honest answers to questions. After years of normalizing my period, each of my children approaches the sight of period blood, pads, and my cycle with nonchalance - it is what it is, they seem to think.
My open approach wasn’t exactly planned in advance. When Penny was around three she walked into the bathroom and found me changing my blood-soaked pad, a moment that was both transformational and startling for us both. The look of fear and confusion on her face confirmed my need to normalize menstruation, even at a young age. I quickly assured her that the blood she was seeing was normal, and explained to her that I had been bleeding for a few days every month, for a long time. She was reassured, and I decided then not to hide my period from her, offering openness and honesty instead.
Throughout the years our conversations have ebbed and flowed. Like any person who gets their period, my life does not revolve around it, and neither do my kids’ lives. But our open dialogue has led to many fruitful conversations, and I’ve watched as my kids’ comfort with my period and its natural processes has developed.
Once my middle daughter, Georgia, asked me why there was so much blood on my pad. I explained that looks were deceiving, and tried my best to find a practical way to explain what she was seeing. I took her to the kitchen and filled a cup with water, and then asked Georgia to drop some red food dye in the cup. Instantly the red dye changed the water to a deep red, and I explained that my period was similar. What might look like a lot of blood was actually water, and a mixture of other compounds to make it look like a lot of blood.
When I switched to cloth pads two years ago I shared with my kids why I was making the switch. We talked about the environment and why disposable pads weren’t a wise choice for the earth, and also that cloth pads were a less expensive option too. We picked out patterns and colours together, and discussed the importance of finding products that work for your body type. When we received our first shipment my kids carefully unwrapped the pads, excited to see the different colours and feel the soft textures. Later I found them laying their toys on the colourful cloth, as if they were sleeping on a comfy bed.
Since I started using cloth pads I have noticed a dramatic shift in the length and severity of my cycle, and I shared my findings with both Penny and Georgia. I’ve let them know that if they choose, they can have their own pad collection once they get their periods. I plan to offer them the freedom of choice, and will educate them on the variety of options available, from menstrual cups, cloth pads, or period underwear.
There are so many ways that open discussion has improved my relationship with my children, and offered them plenty of life lessons already. They’ve seen me comfortably negotiating my period, and have felt confident enough to ask me questions. I’ve been careful to explain that my period journey is not the same as every other person’s journey, and theirs may look different too. Regardless of how their period looks, or feels, they know that I’ll be there to navigate the experience with them.
Just because my kids are young doesn’t mean that don’t have the ability to understand and appreciate the different functions of our bodies. I’ve watched as open dialogue has led to them embracing the concept of menstruation quite easily. It's not something they consider gross or uncomfortable, because it's a natural topic to discuss for them. I feel confident that cultivating a space for judgement-free dialogue will lead us to deeper and richer conversations as they grow. When their time comes, they’ll be equipped with years of spectator experience, and ready to embark on their own reproductive journey.
We get a lot of questions at Lunapads about why we're so committed to an inclusive message. Here, our guest blogger Mika digs into why it is important for brands to be gender-inclusive, especially when working in an often cisgendered space.
“Feminine” wellness strikes again, this time headed by a millennial woman who didn’t seem to get the memo that women aren’t the only ones who have to worry about their vaginal health.
That’s right, a new “feminine” health and wellness product line called Queen V has hit the physical and digital Walmart and Jet.com shelves. The brand is targeting millennial women with bright, colorful packaging and youthful, yet exceptionally gendered language. Besides the fact that they clearly brand themselves as a feminine health and wellness brand, it only takes a cursory glance at the website to know this brand isn’t inclusive of the transgender or genderqueer communities:
I could go on, but you get the picture.
So what’s the big deal? Women do have vaginas, so it makes sense to call product lines like Queen V “feminine” health and wellness brands, right?
Eh, no, not really. The term itself is really outdated and should be tossed straight in the trash. Let’s just tear it up and burn it.
Why? The answer is simple: there are people who have vaginas who don’t identify as women. Whether they are transgender men or genderqueer people, their sex does not align with their gender identities. That means that many transgender men need the same vaginal care as a cisgender woman. And some transgender men have unique gynecological needs. If they are taking testosterone, they may experience significant vaginal dryness or even vaginal atrophy and could benefit from over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers.
Bottom line: transgender men and genderqueer people need access to vaginal health and wellness products that are made for them, too. That means when we continue to label these products as “feminine” wellness, we exclude entire populations of people who have vaginas but don’t fall into the “feminine” category. Again, what’s the big deal? Can’t they just buy the products anyway and use them? Well, that answer’s not quite so simple.
Again, what’s the big deal? Can’t they just buy the products anyway and use them? Well, that answer’s not quite so simple.
Firstly, no one should have their gender identity disrespected. You don’t see cisgender people forcibly misgendered, so why do we keep doing it to genderqueer and transgender people? Look at the Dove line of health and wellness products, for example. You’ve got products very clearly branded for cisgender men and women with their Dove Men+Care Line versus essentially everything else Dove, which are all branded for women. You’re a woman? Great! We’ve got a product for you! A man? Yep, here you go! Trans man? Well, the Dove women’s aisle is right this way…
Also, the psychology behind gender identity can be very complicated for some transgender people. Some experience symptoms of gender dysphoria when confronted by products like Queen V because the way the products are branded conflict with the gender with which they identify, and it can be a painful experience. They need to care for their bodies, but they’re forced to use products branded in a way that runs completely counter to their identities, and this can trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, and confusion.
Queen V isn’t the only millennial health and wellness brand out there that’s guilty of gendering its products. Just last month, Teen Vogue, which caters to a millennial audience, published a slideshow on the “10 Best Products for Vaginal Health,” and eight out of the 10 products were marketed specifically to women. Vaginal cleansing wipes? Women only. Vulva cream? Women only. Yeast infection treatment? Women only. The two outliers? Two out of the three probiotics included in the list. That’s right; even one of the probiotics was gendered.
The message here for trans and genderqueer people? You’re still not welcome here. This isn’t a safe space for you. And that’s not OK.
Brands need to ditch the gendering of health and wellness products. It doesn’t take much for brands, especially innovative, new brands, to include all genders in their millennial-targeted messaging:
It’s time brands drop the gendered language and start including under-represented populations who also need their products. It's not only good business, it's the future.
I don’t know about you, but my first period was not awesome, probably made worse by the fact that I had so eagerly anticipated it. The short story: following 3 days of agonizing cramps, at the age of 13 and a half, it started.
Shortly thereafter, alerted to the true nature of my malady, my little brother and his friend mocked me, running around the house yelling “She’s on the rag! She’s on the rag!” Not exactly the sweet discovery of womanhood that I had imagined for myself. I felt humiliated and distinctly disappointed.
Fast forward close to 40 years, to me anticipating my adolescent daughter’s impending menarche. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had unwittingly assumed that her experience would be like mine, at least on a physical level: i.e. that I would have some warning in the form of the cramps. It was not to be the case, on any level.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had unwittingly assumed that her experience would be like mine, at least on a physical level: i.e. that I would have some warning in the form of the cramps.
Early every summer my family visits a semi-remote island for a retreat from pavement, screens, work and the other common trappings of daily urban life. We simplify our lives and routines, and spend most of our time wandering the forests and beaches, playing board games and sleeping a lot. Being in an electricity-free environment I find myself acutely aware of the moon and tides.
This year, watching my daughter (I will call her S) on the beach not long after our arrival, a friend asked me whether S had started her period yet. I was quick to reply in the negative, noting that she is more than a year younger than I was when I started, and, while her body had begun changing, she had not had cramps.
So much for that! Trust the wise friend’s intuition: less than 24 hours later S’s period started. Due to my own persistent needs, fortunately I happened to have sufficient supplies with me to see her through. I was shocked by how wildly excited I was: I honestly wanted to shout the news from the rooftops.
The timing could not have been better. Having told me in the past that she did not want me to “do anything” to commemorate her first period when it arrived, she was surprisingly excited about the prospect, particularly with not just one, but both of her godmothers slated to arrive not 48 hours later. She couldn’t wait to share the news with them. One in particular has a strong inclination towards ritual and Goddess spirituality, and, S knew, would be literally Over the Moon.
Anticipating the arrival of our co-celebrants, we chose a secluded spot on a favourite beach where we gathered thirteen large stones and placed them in a circle and added the further embellishment of 13 large clam shells.
The Godmothers arrived in due course, bearing flaming red flowers for a floral crown, among other gifts and ritual preparations.
For all of the women’s circles that I have participated in (many), I have never attended a menarche ritual. As mentioned earlier, Godmother #1 had brought her extensive Goddess faith experience - not to mention deep love for her goddaughter - to bear and had prepared a thoughtful ritual for us. She asked Godmother #2 and me to prepare some thoughts to share on the topic of positive experiences of transition, what our cycles and the notion of becoming or being a woman have meant to us, and how they have helped us to find strength. (If you're curious - here are mine.)
On the chosen day and time (a full moon, no less!), we headed off to our special spot and opened our circle by calling in the four directions. Godmother #1 shared a beautiful reading, and from there we proceeded to share what we had written.
We then dialed up Sister Sledge’s classic We are Family on a phone and took a dance break. My daughter was then invited to share with us her thoughts and feelings. We all - at one point or another - shed a few tears at the love and wonder of this moment. One particularly lovely metaphor surfaced as we talked: that, as adult caregivers to this Moon Maiden, we pledged to be her “front porch”: a place where any question or need could be brought, which would be addressed and supported without question or hesitation.
One particularly lovely metaphor surfaced as we talked: that, as adult caregivers to this Moon Maiden, we pledged to be her “front porch”: a place where any question or need could be brought, which would be addressed and supported without question or hesitation.
We concluded our activities by each of the adult women inscribing a stone with our personal wishes for S, closed our circle and walked hand in hand down the beach.
As it happened, on our way home we were passing a group of women sitting on the front porch of a neighbouring cottage (I should add that we were all wearing dresses and that S was wearing her magnificent floral crown: we were not your average remote island sight).
"What were we all up to?", they asked. Looking at S, one of them asked whether it was her birthday. There was a slight pause, and then S replied: “No: I just started my period and we’re celebrating.”
The response was electric: the women were utterly charmed and delighted, and several of them raised their glasses in a toast. They were clearly moved, and I realized that it was entirely likely they had never before had such news delivered to them, let alone with such confidence.
It was not until later in the evening that it hit me that they had been sitting on a front porch!
I should also add that there were a handful of men around - S’s Dad included - who were informed in a similar manner by her about her news. One of them was so deeply touched that he would happily have joined in our circle, given the opportunity!
I am still mulling the impact that S’s menarche had on the others surrounding her: it’s almost like a kind of hope or reverence: it literally lifted up everyone who received news of it.
My gratitude is boundless that this will be her story forever, and my hope is that all who hear it will feel similarly inspired by the knowledge that, one summer on a beautiful island, a Moon Maiden was sweetly celebrated and in turn graced us all with her magic.
“I laughed so hard, tears ran down my legs!”
“When I sneeze, I cross my legs and hope for the best!”
“Trampoline? Not without a change of pants!”
Body image, sexuality, strength in the face of societal and peer pressure. Raising kids is a tough job. Add the daunting task of fighting against the menstruation taboo to your #parentinggoals and you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Raising period positive kids doesn’t necessarily have to be challenging, however. With the right tools and a positive mindset, teaching your kids to view menstruation as it really is - a healthy, normal part of life - will be far easier than teaching them to drive.
When my daughter was 3, she walked in on me changing my tampon (this was before my days as a champion for reusable menstruation products) and blurted out, "Mommy, why are you bleeding from your butt?". She then proceeded to offer me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bandaid. It was then that I knew I had to start being more conscious of the conversations we had and the language I used if I was going to raise a child free from period and body shame.
Instead of shooing her out the door (yes, I know some of us just want to pee alone), I let her know what was happening. She literally did not care at all and promptly proceeded to color on the wall. Moments like these are the perfect time to open up a dialogue, see if they have any questions, and show that there’s no shame in your period game. Though she had no concern with my period at 3, I know that over the span of her childhood there will be times when she has more questions about periods. By not shutting your child down when you’re presented with these sometimes awkward-feeling moments, you let them know that it’s okay to ask questions and talk openly about their bodies.
One of the most effective ways to dismantle the centuries-old stigma placed on menstruation is to take back the conversation about it. By being open about periods - in both a general sense and in a personal sense - you help lift the veil of secrecy on what should be a very normal topic. With less secrecy comes more questions, more teachable moments, and more honesty. Your kids will grow up thinking (correctly) that menstruation is as normal a discussion as what’s for dinner.
Vagina. Uterus. Vulva. Period. The language you use when it comes to period talk matters greatly. If you grew up calling your genitals your "private parts", like I did, it may feel slightly clinical to use the anatomically correct names with your kids. Using the correct terms for body parts and bodily functions shouldn’t feel shameful. In fact, it’s a lot more uncomfortable to try to convince your child that your vagina isn’t part of your butt. Trust me.
Though society often deems words like vagina or penis as unacceptable for public conversation, cutesy and nonsensical nicknames, like cupcake or hoo-ha, can subconsciously create a sense of shame around body parts that are absolutely not shameful. If you use the correct terms from the time your kids start to talk, you’ll find that they don’t experience embarrassment from saying them as they get older.
Using positive words when it comes to menstrual discussions is equally important as using the proper terminology. If your children grow up hearing you complain about "the curse" of your period or bemoaning the aches and pains you experience from PMS, they’re going to view it in a negative light.
But, yes, sometimes periods just plain suck. You don’t have to pretend that your menses is a glorious week that you look forward to each month. Just be honest. If you’re cramping and irritable, tell your kids why and teach them through your actions how to handle the side effects of menstruating. One day, they too may experience the bloating, the cramps, the headaches, and the cravings that often come with menstruation. They’ll look back and remember that, while having a period wasn’t always comfortable for you, you didn’t think of it as a bad thing.
Our bodies do some pretty awesome things - including shedding the uterine lining when an egg isn’t fertilized. The more kids understand these processes, the easier it will be to have frank discussions and the less they will view these bodily functions as shameful, mysterious, or gross.
Despite most health and sex educators best efforts, the funding to cover menstruation in depth is rare in most parts of the United States. This often results in a glossed over approach, leaving kids confused about what their bodies do. Many go into puberty without knowing what is happening to them. This leaves them susceptible to period-shaming which, obviously, is something to avoid if you’re raising period positive kids.
If you have older children with periods, introducing them to apps that help them better understand their period could prove incredibly valuable. San Francisco-based Glow is working to demystify bodies and periods by giving data based information about their user’s menstrual cycles in a fun way. Even though I started using their period tracking app, Eve, as an adult it’s done wonders in helping me better understand what my body is going through at any given time. Giving your kids the tools and education to truly understand menstruation will go a long way in helping them understand periods in a factual, positive light.
If you google "how to explain menstruation to my child" you’ll be met with a full page of results - on how to explain periods to your daughter. Often, our sons are left out of the menstrual conversation which doesn’t do any good for anyone, especially them. Menstruation and reproductive rights affect us all and should be talked about as a human issue, rather than a woman’s issue. One of the reasons I’m so fond of Lunapads is their determination to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for all people with periods.
When I talk to my now 5-year-old about periods, I’m mindful of using inclusive language. Though she may not fully understand the depth of what I’m saying now, teaching kids from a young age will give them a foundation that their understanding of gender and inclusivity will be built on for the rest of their lives.
Raising period positive kids is no light matter and, of course, society will have some impact on the way they perceive their bodies and periods. Starting the conversation at home gives our kids a leg up - and a safe place to explore these sometimes confusing topics. We can build the foundation for a lifetime of body positivity and love by doing our best to have home be the place where they know that their bodies will be accepted for what they are and their questions answered without embarrassment.
Women need to be given information about the crucial role pelvic health plays long before they get pregnant. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to prevent or minimize the impact of pregnancy and birth on the pelvic floor? The current reality is that most women do not find out until it after the damage has been done and resign to accept it as a normal consequence of child birth or a fact of life. My mom lived with it until it became a major problem and then required surgery to fix it. Thankfully many of the issues women think are ‘normal’ are often very treatable – they just need to know where to go, who to see and what to do (and the answer is not "go home and do your kegels"). In fact, kegels, sit ups and ab crunches, when done incorrectly, can be quite damaging to your pelvic floor. More on that in a future post.
The pelvic floor is responsible for important functions like supporting the spine and pelvis, maintaining continence, sexual satisfaction and holding the internal organs in place. For a part of the body that plays such an important role in so many things, why is it that it gets so little attention? A big reason is that the pelvis is often considered taboo: a shameful or embarrassing part of your body. The pelvic floor is a part of the body we can’t see so it is often not thought about but because it is so central to all that we do, if there is a problem, it is all we can think about.
Thankfully there are products available to help individuals cope with a compromised pelvic floor. Lunapads and Luna Undies are some great product options that are much healthier choices than chemically laden, wasteful and uncomfortable disposable pads. I invite you however to look at these solutions as temporary because you don’t have to live with leaks. Instead, I urge you to do an online search for “Pelvic Floor Physiotherapists” in your area. For those in Canada, visit www.pelviennewellness.com, click Find A Physio and enter your postal code to find the pelvic floor physiotherapist nearest you. Then pick up the phone and make an appointment; your body deserves it! This is the most underused health resource available to individuals and so few know about it. In my opinion, visiting a pelvic floor physiotherapist should be part of your annual health check up so you can be proactive and stay in control of your pelvic floor wellness rather than it controlling you.
For more great posts about your pelvic floor health read:
Hey all of you Luna-Mamas out there! Menstruation is a daily topic around our office and a big part of that for many is pregnancy, and birthin’ babies. Many of our first-time customers come to us looking for an alternative to those icky hospital-issue postpartum pads for their postpartum bleeding. As a Doula who recently attended several births, I thought I would share some postnatal tips with y’all.
When I first begin working with a family as a Doula, I find many first time moms experience fears around birth mostly because they just don’t know what to expect and they are basing their perceptions on friends and families’ birth stories which may or may not be pleasant. With so much concern about making it through childbirth gracefully with a healthy baby, breastfeeding and all of the other new calls of motherhood, many women are not aware of what their own needs will be postnatal or how their body will change.
Vaginas are amazing for lots of reasons and one especially cool one is how stretchy the muscles are - pretty helpful for pushing out whole babies. Resilient as they are, they do need some help to heal. When I visit a family postnatal, (just for the record, a doula/family relationship is one of the most fast and furiously intimate ones I have ever experienced) I bring along some Perineal Wash. Made with herbs of Plantain, Comfrey leaf, Comfrey root, Rosemary, Thyme, Yarrow and Calendula it is used externally to work miracles in the healing of the perineum. You boil up the herbs in a big pot like tea, strain the herbs and with your Peri Bottle, wash your perineum each time you use the washroom.
Immediately after birth, even a caesarean section, you will have some swelling, potentially healing from stitches and possibly postpartum bleeding. Many birthing parents end up wearing and changing heavy disposable pads frequently at this time. Lunapads Overnight Pads and Performa Super Pads are a much more comfortable and environmentally friendly option. Both can be rinsed with water and put in the freezer for a pad-style ice pack or even better, dampen with witch hazel before freezing. This also works wonders on hemorrhoids which can be another one of those after-birth surprises. A few drops of lavender and some Aloe Vera are also nice in the mix.
If you are already a Lunapads user, I am sure you will be rocking the baby cloth too. Congrats and enjoy motherhood!
If you'd like to support maternal health in Africa please consider donating to our Shanti Uganda fundraiser! Later this month, Madeleine and Suzanne will be traveling to Uganda with Shanti Uganda, an organization whose goal is to lower maternal and infant mortality rates, reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates from mother to child, improve access to education and supplies and honour every birthing parent. Lunapads is raising money to support Shanti Uganda's Health and Wellness workshops for young girls.