What is menarche?
Menarche (pronounced muh naar kee) is when you get your first period. Said another way, menarche refers to the first time you menstruate. Menarche is an important milestone that marks the beginning of your fertility. Getting your period means that you’re physically capable of becoming pregnant and having a baby unless you have health conditions preventing it.
What is the difference between menstruation and menarche?
Menstruation is just one part of the menstrual cycle, a monthly sequence of events that prepares your body for a potential pregnancy. You shed your uterus lining through your vagina each month when you don’t get pregnant.
Menarche refers to your first time menstruating, and this makes it unique. Your first period isn’t just the beginning of your reproductive years. It’s also a defining part of your body’s transition from childhood to adulthood, called puberty. Before menarche, you may have noticed these changes in your body:
- Breast (chest) development.
- Widening hips.
- A growth spurt.
- Oily skin and acne.
- Hair growth on your underarms.
- Pubic hair growth.
Your body may continue growing after menarche. But you will have gone through most of the changes puberty brings by the time you get your first period.
Who does menarche affect?
You get your period based on your reproductive parts and hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Anyone with reproductive anatomy associated with being assigned female at birth (AFAB) — vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries — can menstruate. Cisgender girls, transgender boys and nonbinary people with AFAB parts can get periods, too.
What age is menarche?
You’ll likely get your period between ages 11 and 14. In the U.S., most people experience menarche around 12 and 12 ½. Another way to predict when you’ll get your period is to think back to when you noticed changes in your breasts (chest). Menarche usually happens 2 to 2 to 2 ½ years after your breasts begin to develop.
You can get your period as early as 9 or as late as 15. Many factors influence when menarche begins, but it’s common to get your period at around the same time your mother or birthing parent did.
How does menarche affect my body?
Your first period means that you can potentially become pregnant if you have penis-in-the-vagina sex (intercourse) unless you’re regularly using birth control. You can get pregnant at any time if you have intercourse, even when you’re on your period.
Getting a period isn’t just about pregnancy. Menstruating each month requires adjusting to changes in your body. These changes involve figuring out what products to use to manage your blood flow and, in some cases, dealing with period-related symptoms.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of menarche?
Leading up to your first period, you may notice these symptoms:
- Cramping (pain or achiness in your belly, back or legs).
- Bloating (your belly feels full or swollen).
- Tender or sore breasts (chest).
- Breakouts (acne/pimples flare-up).
- Mood swings.
- Fatigue (tiredness).
During your period, you may notice red or brown blood on your underwear or in the toilet after using the bathroom. You may bleed so little that you only see a few spots before your period ends. Or, your bleeding may start light, get heavier, and then become light again before it ends.
Everyone experiences periods differently. And first periods are especially unpredictable. Don’t worry if your symptoms or your period are different from someone else’s.
What causes menarche?
You get your first period when your body has matured enough to support your menstrual cycle. Each month, your ovaries produce an egg, and the lining of your uterus thickens. If you have intercourse, the egg can become fertilized. A fertilized egg travels to your uterus and implants in your uterus lining, where it grows into a fetus. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, you shed the egg and your uterus lining through your vagina. The material you shed from your uterus each month is called period blood or menstrual blood.
Genetics and environment both play a role in triggering menarche:
- Heredity: Your genes influence when you get your first period. People commonly get their periods when their mother or birthing parent did.
- Hormones: Hormones in your brain and your sex organs regulate your menstrual cycle and play a role in menarche, too.
- Body composition: Height, weight, and fat distribution in your body influence when you get your first period.
- Health: Stress, poor nutrition and certain health conditions can lead to later menarche and cause irregular periods.
- Environment: Environmental factors, such as resource access, likely influence menarche. For instance, people from wealthier countries tend to get their periods sooner than people from countries with less wealth.
How do I take care of myself?
You don’t have to stop regular activities just because you get your period. And no one has to know that you’re on your period unless you want them to. Products to manage your blood flow include:
- Pads or panty liners. Some people use pads for heavier period days (more bleeding) and panty liners for lighter days (less bleeding). Change pads or panty liners every four to eight hours.
- Tampons. Tampons absorb the blood from your vagina before it leaves your body. You can swim during your period when you’re wearing a tampon. Change tampons every four to eight hours.
- Menstrual cups. Many menstrual cups are washable and reusable. Most vaginal cups can hold more blood than regular tampons. Change your cup every eight to 12 hours.
- Period underwear. Period underwear is washable and reusable. Some people find that period underwear manages their blood flow, while others wear them with pads, tampons or menstrual cups.
It’s a good idea to begin tracking your periods on a calendar. Tracking your periods using a calendar, planner or app can help you learn what’s normal — and what’s not — for your period. A normal menstrual cycle happens every 21 to 35 days (28 days on average) and lasts for three to seven days (five days on average). But everyone’s period is different.
For the first year or two, your periods may be unpredictable. You may have months when you skip a period as your body adjusts to a regular menstrual cycle. As your period gets more predictable, you can learn what normal menstruation means for you. And you can spot when your bleeding or your schedule are different. Abnormal bleeding is a sign that you should see a healthcare provider.
How do I manage symptoms?
If your cramps are bothering you, there are a few remedies that can help:
- Take a warm bath.
- Exercise and stretch.
- Place a heating pad or warm washcloth on your belly.
- Take medicines that contain ibuprofen (Advil©, Motrin©) or naproxen (Aleve©).
Don’t take aspirin for your cramps unless your provider says it’s OK. Aspirin has been linked to a rare condition called Reye’s syndrome in people under 18.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Your provider should know if your first period arrives early or late. Getting your period before age nine is called precocious (early) puberty. If you haven’t gotten your period by the time you’re 15 (amenorrhea), your provider will need to examine the cause. Your provider can prescribe treatments depending on what’s delaying your period.
If you’re experiencing severe menstrual cramps, your provider can prescribe medications that can help.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
Menarche is a good time to develop a relationship with a gynecologist. They can answer questions you may have about the changes you’re experiencing. Questions you may ask include:
- How much bleeding is considered “normal” during menarche?
- When should my periods become more predictable?
- What symptoms can I manage at home?
- What symptoms require a doctor’s visit?
Your provider can also answer questions you may have related to pregnancy, birth control, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Menarche is an important milestone during puberty. As you adjust, pay attention to the changes you’re experiencing. Most provider visits from now on will involve questions about when you had your last period and what your periods are like. This information helps your provider assess your health. Talk to your provider or an adult you trust about what menarche means regarding your health, pregnancy and safer sex practices.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy