Dads, Daughters, and Menstruation

There’s an event in your daughter’s life that you can’t escape. Something that will change your relationship with her permanently, and can be painful, awkward, irritating, or seemingly incomprehensible.

Her period.

Hard to think of your baby growing up, right? Well, guess what, dad, she is. And if she’s between the ages of 9 and 15, be prepared. It could happen any minute.

On my ninth birthday, I took a bath. At that age, the thing I loved most was to take a long, hot bath with a book. Nature had other plans for this birthday, though. While the water was still filling the tub, I screamed at the top of my lungs.

“I’m hemorrhaging!”

What can I say? I’m a doctor’s daughter with a flair for the dramatic.

My parents rushed into the bathroom, panic-stricken. And then they realized that their little girl wasn’t a baby anymore. Within an hour, my heroic dad had traveled to the supermarket and brought home every brand of maxi pad in the store.

You could tell he was overwhelmed.

So what about you, dad? Are you ready for the big event?

Two Dads vs. Aunt Flo

As a gay dad, you’ve probably heard the question from strangers more than once. How can two dads talk to a girl about menstruation? Writer, blogger and psychotherapist Amy Kaufman Burk answered that question beautifully:

"The same way they talk about anything else – with respect, care and love. Our culture has an odd attitude toward menstruation; often, the mere mention of a girl’s monthly cycle stops a guy in his tracks. But honestly, that seems rather silly. If a dad doesn’t know how to put in a tampon (and gay or straight, why should he know?), then he can ask a woman for help. My husband and I have turned to our It-Takes-A-Village friends several times. For example: we don’t wear make-up, but our daughter does. She learned to apply it from another adult, since neither of her parents had ever so much as put on lipstick. She’s tolerant of our woeful ignorance, and more importantly, shows no signs of being scarred for life. The point here: No parent can be everything for her or his children. It’s not about being gay/straight; it’s about being human.”


Now that we’re past that issue, let’s move on to what really matters. How your daughter will feel about you talking with her about her period, and what you should do about her first menstrual cycle?

If you browse through online forums, you’ll see plenty of suggestions like “Take your daughter on a special date night.” Read the comments on those pieces. No preteen or teen wants to go celebrate the arrival of her period on an awkward date with her father. Most of us just want to forget it exists, take an Advil, and get back to thinking about our latest crush, soccer try-outs, or what summer camp we’ll be going to and if we can split a cabin with our friends.

How to Help Your Daughter with Her First Period

You’ve never had a period, so tackling this stage of life can be a little overwhelming. I’ve pulled together the following list after asking friends and acquaintances what they wish their dads had done for their periods. You might be surprised.

  • Nothing. Sure, you need to buy pads, tampons, or the like, but don’t overdo it. A period is a big change in a girl’s life, and it’s awkward enough without any extra emphasis. Don’t plan a period party, give a special piece of jewelry, or take her out on a date night to celebrate menstruation.
  • Don’t freak out. You’re probably not ready for this. Most parents dread the day, even as their daughters look forward to it as a sign that they are coming of age. Just make sure that you’ve had “the talk” by the time she’s 9, and keep a basket on hand with a few samples of different brands of pad and tampon (most companies will give these to you for free by mail), a bottle of water to help her rehydrate, and a two-pack of Advil – just in case her cramps are unbearable.
  • Make it clear she can talk to you about it. Some dads close off when the period starts. They don’t know about how it works, and don’t really want to. Sit down with a female friend or two well before the day arrives, and ask them what it’s like. Ask them the details, like how often a pad should be changed (at least once every 8 hours, and anytime that it’s full), what brands of tampon or pad work best for them, and if you have a female friend who is like an aunt to your daughter, ask her if she’d be willing to help her through the first cycle or two with shopping trips and tips – trust me, shopping for pads with your dad is embarrassing, no matter how great your relationship is.
  • Schedule an appointment with the gynecologist. Periods come with baggage, and you need to know that your daughter is 100% healthy. Take her to the gynecologist, but don’t make a big deal of it. She’ll have an exam, you’ll know if her flow is too heavy or too light (both could mean there’s something wrong), and she’ll find out more about how to take care of herself.
  • There are lots of ways to ease period cramps (and the irritability and weepiness that comes with them) that you can do without even telling your daughter. Take her out to a café for tea – it’s a great way to ease cramps. Give her a chocolate bar to help relax her muscles. Keep her hydrated, and skip the salty foods to decrease bloating. You get the idea. There are plenty of ways that diet can keep period pain and irritability in check.

    Your daughter is less likely to feel miserable if she’s active on a regular basis. Take her to the park and go for a jog together, go for a bike ride together, take a long walk; just keep her moving. If she’s in extracurricular activities like soccer or basketball, you’ve got a little help on this one.

    Tips for Buying Your Daughter’s Pads and Tampons

    Have you ever walked down the pad aisle in the supermarket? It’s a rainbow of confusion. I’m a woman and I still get overwhelmed. Wings, no wings, overnight, light, panty liner, tampon with a plastic applicator, tampon with a cardboard applicator, tampon with no applicator … it’s a mess. Here’s what you need to know:

    Every woman has her own preferences. Many manufacturers will send you a kit for your daughter’s first period if you request it. They include everything from coupons to pads, and may even come with a little purse or pouch she could use. Order these when she’s 8, so that you’re ready when the time comes. After a year or two, discard the samples that were sent and buy a small package of each. Let your daughter try each brand to see what she likes best. You might want to check out HelloFlo, too. The company’s First Moon Party commercial will make you laugh until you cry, and their starter package is a good option for many girls.

    If your daughter asks you to buy a pack of pads or tampons for her, here’s what you need to know:

  • Each pack of pads or tampons has an indicator on the side that tells you how absorbent they are. If possible, choose a package that contains different absorbency levels, especially for tampons.
  • Pant liners aren’t for the period itself. They don’t absorb much of anything, and are more for daily use the rest of the month, especially for women who have already had a kid or two. Don’t bother with them unless she asks you to buy them.
  • Tampons should be worn with a pad, and although they do a great job at absorbing, they come with a few serious risks. You might want to save these for her teen years, unless her gynecologist gives you the go-ahead.
  • Plastic applicator tampons are the easiest to use, although cardboard and no applicator types work just as well.
  • If you ask the pharmacist, he or she may be able to make some brand and style recommendations based on your daughter’s age and body type.
  • Some women hate pads with wings, while others can’t live without them. Buy your daughter a pack of each, so she can decide which she prefers.
  • Try not to buy thick pads – they’re uncomfortable for younger girls, and you can find equally absorbent options that aren’t as awkward.
  • If your daughter is eco-conscious, consider cloth pads or a menstrual cup. Both options may be workable, but take a bigger commitment to self-care on her part.
  • How to Know If Something Is Wrong With Your Daughter’s Period

    You can’t exactly help your daughter through every step of her period, but you do need to be attentive. There are a few key signs you need to watch for that might indicate a problem. For example, if your daughter is 15 and hasn’t had her period yet, this could indicate a health problem; you need to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist. The same is true if your daughter’s period is extremely early (before age 9).

    If your daughter is using tampons, you need to know the signs and symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). It’s a dangerous infection, and needs to be treated immediately. According to the Mayo Clinic, here’s what you need to watch for: a sudden high fever low blood pressure (hypotension), vomiting or diarrhea, a rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles, confusion, muscle aches, redness of the eyes, mouth and throat, seizures, and headaches

    Sometimes, strange things happen. If your daughter tells you that she lost a tampon inside (it happens), don’t panic. Just take her to the gynecologist. In five minutes, she’ll be good as new. Making sure that she uses the tampon absorbency strength that is right for her flow can help prevent TSS and the accidental loss of a tampon in the vagina, among other problems.

    Another sign to watch for is irregularity. If your daughter is having her period at odd intervals, there may be an issue. Keep an eye on when her cycle starts and stops. Pain is also a hint that something is wrong. Periods hurt, but if she’s often in agony on her period, make sure she’s checked for problems like endometriosis. Extreme pain (dysmenorrhea) is not normal.

    Wrap-Up

    You’re a dad with a daughter. Periods happen. You’ll survive, and so will she. If you want the process to go as smoothly as possible, just don’t sweat it. It’s a normal part of being a woman. The one thing you can do is leave the door open to communication – her period is just the start of a new phase of her life. She’s becoming a woman, and you’ve raised her beautifully this far.

    Need More Help?

    The Office of Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published a useful fact sheet on menstruation available for free download; visit BePreparedPeriod.com (tagline: “Helping women and girls go with the flo”); visit Menstrupedia.com (“friendly guide to healthy periods”); or get some tips from Kotex, especially in the section “My Daughter’s Period.”

    Be a Part of Our Story

    Join our continuously growing community of dads, families and industry experts. We’ll provide education, anecdotes and advice for wherever you might be in your journey to fatherhood. Sign up to our newsletter:

    Sign up to our newsletter