When it comes to dads, daughters and menstruation, some dads keep their distance and let a wife or a female friend or family member handle the task of education and support. Other dads can be found navigating the feminine hygiene section of the supermarket or pharmacy — some sheepishly, some with confidence — gazing over a mountain of Tampax and Mooncups, doing their best to get it right.
Shopping for feminine hygiene products may be the easy part. Perhaps more difficult for a dad who has limited adult female support are the conversations and educational aspect of guiding a daughter through the body changes of puberty.
Still, dads can change diapers and do the dishes — and dads can talk puberty and body function with daughters — though a little guidance certainly helps.
We spoke to Dr. Asma J. Chattha, M.B.B.S, a Mayo Clinic Children’s Center pediatrician and mother, about the best way dads can go about supporting their daughters with puberty and periods.
Mayo Clinic Press: Let’s start with the scenario where — due to whatever circumstance — dad needs to start broaching the topic of menstruation with his daughter. How should he best go about this?
DR. CHATTHA: He should ideally first approach the subject once any pubertal signs and symptoms start to develop, such as adult type body odor or pubic and underarm hair or an outbreak of acne. Fortunately, while all this happens, there is a good time frame of 18 to 24 months before the menstrual period will also begin. This gives a father some time to become familiar with what is being taught in school regarding puberty and assess the child’s own knowledge about the same. Much of the discussion he then instigates can be tailored to the child’s maturity level and understanding. Important aspects to focus on would be how our body changes and, connected to this, reproductive hygiene. Sexuality and safe sexual behaviors can be added to the discussion later on, with increasing maturity of the child.
MCP: And for a very young daughter?
DR. CHATTHA: For a very young daughter, even prior to any pubertal signs developing, topics like body basics and consent — understanding to grant permission before anyone touches them — is the most important aspect for teaching a child respect and autonomy regarding their own body. Practical aspects of this which Dads can focus on at home include increasing autonomy with toileting and washing after using the bathroom. And around that time, starting a discussion regarding upcoming pubertal body changes is important. It can be a simple discussion centered on pointing out the differences between girls and women and how that transition occurs gradually. This allows the child to not be afraid of any bodily changes that they start to perceive as underway, since they have already been previously informed this would happen.
MCP: How can dads instill pride in menstruation and help their daughters feel in control of the changes their bodies are undergoing?
DR. CHATTHA: Puberty should be framed in as positive a manner as possible so that the overall experience is not one of fear but pride and acceptance. As the pubertal changes progress, it is important for fathers to become aware of the many different menstrual period products on the market such as pads, tampons, menstrual period underwear, menstrual cups and so on. It is a good idea to have more than one sanitary option available so the girl can choose whichever seems most comfortable. Regarding tampons, there are “slim” or “teen” versions available, but your child may not be comfortable with using tampons of any type until a few months or years into having had menstrual periods regularly.
MCP: So in practical terms, it’s better for a girl to start off using pads and then migrate to tampons as confidence with menstruation rises, especially relative to application required to take place during a school day where asking for help may not be an option?
DR. CHATTHA: Typically, yes. However, if a girl is showing interest in learning how to insert a tampon, fathers (and certainly mothers) should not thwart that sense of confidence. Instead, they should have the products be available, allow them to watch age-appropriate video tutorials on insertion of a tampon. There are sports such as swimming that a girl may be involved in that necessitate early adoption of tampons. That being said, with the advent of menstrual period swimwear, another option has become available to menstruating swimmers.
MCP: Every dad has seen at least one female close to him suffering with period pains and clutching her stomach in bed. What can a dad do to ease period pains in his daughter?
DR. CHATTHA: Make sure there is a good stock of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) at home. And start using that at recommended doses as soon as cramping begins, which can sometimes occur as much as a day or two prior to the bleeding commencing. This can be very helpful. I would also recommend having a heating pad available to press to the tummy and manage pain, or you can use a hot water bottle.
MCP: For a girl who recently started menstruating — and who also has a smartphone — which period apps can dad help her download for guidance and tracking? What is useful about those you recommend?
DR. CHATTHA: I recommend Flo because it’s comprehensive and you can add comments in certain fields; Clue because it includes all genders and ages, has a mood tracker and also exercise and health logs; and Period Tracker which is useful for those with painful or heavy periods because it allows detailed note taking on each day with pronounced symptoms which can be helpful to share with a health care provider during an appointment.
MCP: Once a girl is used to menstruating and confident with how to manage, are apps still useful?
DR. CHATTHA: If a pattern has been established and the menstruating adolescent is not suffering from significant aberrations in timing, flow or pain, there may no longer be any significant benefit in maintaining a very detailed log. However, some of the more simple period tracking apps that I mentioned, which document the start and end of a menstrual period, may be helpful in case there is concern about a missed menstrual period or possible pregnancy.
MCP: So Dads can understand all available options, what is your medical opinion on menstrual cups, such as a Mooncup? Are they suitable for kids under 18? A lot of young women on TikTok and Instagram talk about menstrual cups and having a trial-and-accident journey before they get the hang of it.
DR. CHATTHA: Yes, there is definitely a learning curve to using them appropriately, just as with tampons. However, once one feels comfortable with their use, they are quite convenient.
MCP: If dad is a single parent, what medical warning signs or red flags should he notice with his daughter’s period or symptoms she may mention over breakfast or dinner?
DR. CHATTHA: Some cramping is to be expected around the time of menstruation and this may cause a girl to feel fatigued or low in mood. Some irritability can also happen around the time of the menstrual period which is perfectly normal. If there is any bleeding during a period heavy enough that the girl is going through a pad every hour or the pain is severe enough for her to be doubled over, unable to go to school, or attend activities or affecting her sleep, she should be seen by a health care provider as soon as possible.
MCP: Are reusable period pads, such as Dame, safe to use as it relates to hygiene and any possible risk of infection?
DR. CHATTHA: Yes, if used as recommended and appropriately, the concept is similar to that of menstrual period underwear and is safe to use. Following good hygiene measures — including cleaning often and staying in line with the product information — is important though.
MCP: On a similar note, do you recommend period pants like Thinx, Wuka, Modibodi?
DR. CHATTHA: Yes, definitely. Menstrual period underwear is now freely available both in disposable and reusable versions. They look and feel exactly like regular underwear and most young girls find them very comfortable. Cost can be slightly prohibitive for households on tighter budgets but with more brands coming up with similar solutions, the cost is being driven down by market competition.
MCP: For gender nonconforming or transgender teenagers, menstruation can cause or heighten gender dysphoria. What is the best way for parents to support their child if this is the case, and do you think gender neutral menstrual products like Aunt Flow, Glad Rags, Lunette and Thinx help?
DR. CHATTHA: Transgender teenagers definitely experience increased dysphoria around the time of menstruation. While a few feel comfortable with tampon use, most will feel comfortable with either pad use or menstrual period underwear. Therefore, all of the products mentioned are quite helpful in decreasing distress around the time of menstruation.
MCP: Dads and daughters may hear about period poverty in the news, or may experience this during a time of economic hardship at home. Given your expertise, what are your thoughts on this topic?
DR. CHATTHA: This is a very important topic. I am involved in advocacy efforts to see if menstrual hygiene products can be provided free of cost in elementary and middle schools but it is an uphill battle. This is a subject that affects millions of women around the world and impacts their mental, physical and social well-being considerably. In my mind, protective legislation is needed. We need to reduce taxes on menstrual products, particularly in the United States.
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