Girls of Color Are Starting Their Periods Earlier, a Study Says — Here’s What Parents Should Know

A recent study indicates that girls of color, particularly Black girls, are beginning their menstrual cycles at younger ages than their peers. While the exact reasons for this phenomenon remain unclear, some experts suggest environmental chemicals and pollutants may contribute, and highly processed foods can accelerate aging and adversely affect health. Chronic stress could also play a role in early periods, according to the study, which may come as a surprise to some. As adults and parents, we might forget that children can be affected by stressors too, including worries about family finances and poverty, disease, increased violence, and systemic racism. 

Despite the disparity, the study suggests that body mass index (BMI) and race do not necessarily play a significant role in these health outcomes. Instead, prolonged exposure to stress and environmental toxins is more critical, highlighting the need for comprehensive health approaches that go beyond race or BMI considerations. The study also shows just how important period education will continue to be as more and more young people get their periods earlier.

Challenges and changes of early-onset menstruation

The early onset of menstruation for young girls can present numerous challenges. In clinical practice, it’s not uncommon to see girls as young as six presenting with stomach pain and discomfort, later found to be related to menstruation. In one article on period pain, John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, said that patients described menstrual cramps “almost as bad as having a heart attack.” As a physician and a mother of two young girls, it’s heartbreaking to imagine a child experiencing this level of pain.

Another concern for girls is the development of endometriosis, a painful condition where tissue similar to the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. This often begins with menstruation and research has found a “small increased risk” of endometriosis for those who get their periods before age 11. For those children, this means experiencing severe pain from a very young age. In addition, diagnosing endometriosis often takes 7-10 years, leading to prolonged suffering as this pain is dismissed or misunderstood.

For Black girls, early menstruation could also lead to premature sexualization, as they may appear older than they are due to their physical development. This often results in societal pressures and misconceptions, as these young girls are usually not mentally prepared for the changes in their bodies. To help girls navigate these changes, it’s vital that parents prepare their children for this early transition.

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell

Preparing children for periods

Some girls fear telling their parents they are bleeding when they begin their periods, highlighting the need for open, early conversations about menstrual health. As parents, we cannot predict when our children’s menstrual cycles will start, and as the study suggests, they could come sooner than you think. And while the trend of starting menstruation at an earlier age is concerning, one thing we can all do as parents is make sure our children feel prepared for the changes in their bodies and empowered to ask questions about what they’re going through.

In fact, one of the best ways to educate young girls about their bodies and menstrual health is to provide information about menstruation before they experience it. With my daughters, we discuss periods, why they happen, and what to expect, so they are informed and less fearful. It’s important for them to know about all parts of their bodies, why those parts are there, and how they function. This knowledge serves as a critical starting point for understanding their health, and it helps arm them with information about what’s normal and what’s not, so they can feel safe and confident in expressing concerns.

Normalizing conversations about periods and pain, and framing them positively, can also help reduce stigma and shame while ensuring that pain is taken seriously. As a community, we can support the development and well-being of young girls of color by educating and empowering them, ensuring access to menstrual products, and advocating for their health while teaching them to advocate for themselves. For practical menstrual preparation, simple solutions like using pencil cases to store pads or tampons can help girls manage their periods discreetly. Such small steps can significantly impact their comfort and confidence.

On a larger scale, we should continue to help girls of color embrace their periods so they can feel empowered, confident, and safe in their bodies. One way to start is by normalizing conversations about menstrual health, reducing shame about periods, and ensuring access to necessary resources. Educating communities about the unique challenges faced by girls of color will also foster an environment of understanding and advocacy. Together, we can ensure that every girl — regardless of age — has the knowledge, support, and confidence to navigate her menstrual health with dignity.

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