The carers' guide to caring for someone who menstruates
Caring for someone who has periods. We've covered the basics of what periods and the menstrual cycle are, how to know your tampon from your towel plus the best tips from unpaid carers in the thick of it.
Where else can we openly chat about this kind of stuff?
As always, we wade straight into anything that may be considered a little uncomfortable or even squeamish.
A carers' guide - created by carers
We’ve already hosted a virtual cuppa for those of us who care for someone who menstruates. And we’ve included all of the great advice from the cuppa (and much more) in this guide.
If you have anything to add, please let us know. Simply send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our best advice is shared advice from carers living the experience.
And if you have a question - let us know via email@example.com. We’ll put it to our community (anonymously) and update this guide. After all - if you’re asking the question, they’ll be others wondering the same thing too.
This guide will continue to grow, with your help.
What do carers need to know about periods?
What is a period and the menstrual cycle?
“A period is the part of the menstrual cycle when a woman bleeds from her vagina for a few days.” NHS
Menstruation is the posh word for periods. Periods are when we lose blood from our vaginas. It’s all a totally normal process, but may be a bit scary if we’re not prepared or clued up on what to do. Including if we’re providing personal care for someone else having a period.
Menstrual cycles are typically about 28 days (but can be more or less), which means we will have a period (menstruate) once every 28 days (or so). The actual period (where we lose blood) lasts on average between 3 and 8 days (out of the 28 day cycle).
It’s important to note that not everyone will have a regular and predictable cycle, and that cycle lengths are unique. The NHS does a great job of explaining all of this further.
And this fantastic blog takes us through the cycle, explaining what is happening when - and how we may be able to help.
It’s also worth knowing that even when we’re not having a period (blood) we are likely to have vaginal discharge at other points in our cycle. This article explains what healthy vaginal discharge looks like - and what the ‘not so healthy’ stuff looks like too.
How does the person I care for feel, when they’re on their period?
It’s incredibly personal - but here are a few of the usual suspects to be aware of. If the person we care for can tell us, it can be really valuable to simply ask them how they feel and how we can help. It’s important to note that it’s not just during the period that we may experience certain feelings, but in fact throughout the whole cycle. Using an App to track the following side-effects, can be a great way to help manage the monthly flow. Link to android app here!
Hot flushes aren't just for menopause. There are many reasons we may get hot under the collar throughout our cycle, including the change in our hormones. Appropriate clothing, fans, cold flannels, fresh air or even tablets (if appropriate) can help us to manage our temperature.
You guessed it, we’re referring to PMT here - premenstrual tension (sometimes called PMS - premenstrual syndrome). The irritable mood some of us experience in the lead up to our period. Again thought to be triggered by hormone levels changing.
Yup! It’s the hormones again! And another sign of PMT. Loose clothing and some kind words can really help here.
Yet another side effect of the hormone changes and PMT, is lower back pain. A hot water bottle, warm bath, massage or some painkillers (if allowed) can really help.
You may have noticed a theme. PMT and changing hormone levels can also play with our emotions. A healthy diet is said to play a part in supporting our mood, along with kindness ;-)
Energetic or sluggish
Once again our hormone levels that change throughout our cycle, can influence how much energy we have. Tracking energy levels, may mean we can understand when someone is likely to be ‘more up for an adventure’ or a ‘big day out’, and when they may need more rest.
The person we care for may have some embarrassment at needing support with this very private bit of personal care. It’s important to keep in mind that any embarrassment may show up as short temper, being mean or argumentative. Often we use negative emotions as a defensive measure. It can be helpful for us to keep this in mind, so we can find a little more patience and kindness.
It’s worth noting that between days 6 and 13 (in a typical cycle), we’ll have rising levels of the hormone estrogen, a release of the happy hormone serotonin and a boost in testosterone. This could be a good time to ‘get stuff done!” or plan a trip.
How do I care for someone who is menstruating?
Don’t know a sanitary towel from a tampon? Or how to put one in place in place? It’s not scary or complicated. A towel simply sits inside the knickers - it is sticky on one side, so that it sticks to the knickers and stays in place. It’s then well placed to absorb the blood as it leaves the body. A tampon is inserted inside the vagina to absorb the blood. Our cared-for will either express a preference, or if they can’t, then it’s likely that a towel is more appropriate. With incontinence products a towel may also be referred to as a pad.
This short video by Care Channel does a great job of keeping things simple and ‘not scary’. It’s a brilliant starting point.
One carer in our community shared that she uses pink bed sheets during her daughters’ periods, making any leaks less easy to see and therefore reducing the attention or embarrassment it may bring.
Our community are also big fans of period pants. These are reusable knickers that absorb the blood. We can use them instead of pads, or some of our carers use them in addition to pads, to help minimise leaks.
Keeping the person we care for clean will reduce the likelihood of rashes, infections and nasty smells. Supporting the person we care for to change their period product (such as towel or period pants) regularly can really help to stay on top here. Check out our Community’s top tips below, including using an alarm (and some upbeat music) to remind us for the next pad change.
Some people may prefer showers or baths when they’re menstruating. So it’s helpful to ask what they’re preference is, if they’re able to tell you. A bath can soothe lower back pain, but not everyone is comfortable having a bath mid-period flow.
Emotional support for someone having a period
TOTM (Time Of The Month) has a super little blog around how to support your friend at ‘that time of the month’. With great tips, including:
Just listening to any enthusiastic rants
Being a self-esteem boost
Encouraging our cared-for to get some fresh air
Tips from our community
Use an alarm to remind ourselves to check for a pad change. If our cared-for are aware, perhaps choosing a silly song for the alarm can make the whole situation a little lighter.
Use an App, like Period Tracker to help with planning. Apps like this can help us remember when the next period is due. We can also track other things like mood, period flow and other physical symptoms such as insomnia or constipation, that may be linked to the periods and the period cycle.
Use pink bed sheets at that time of the month. Any leaks will be less visible, which can reduce the attention and any potential embarrassment.
"Humour helps us. And having someone to ‘get it off my chest to’, when things are a bit tougher.”
How do I know if my cared-fors’ periods are ‘normal’?
Using a period tracker app on our phones is a great way to start establishing what ‘normal’ looks like for the person we care for. It allows us to track what is going on throughout the whole cycle (not just during the period). Link for android ;o)
Not everyone has a regular cycle, so it’s important to know what ‘normal’ looks like for the person we care for.
We’ll learn to anticipate side-effects, and it will be easier to notice if something changes.
If you do have any concerns, it’s important to make an appointment with your GP.
How do I talk to the person I care for about their periods?
Oooh this is very much a personal decision. We love to lighten things with some humour, but we understand this isn’t always suitable for everyone. But it can be the perfect antidote to a potentially embarrassing situation.
Opening up the conversation with a simple “How can I help you best, when you’re having your period?” might be all we need to get the conversation flowing.
Or - perhaps forwarding this blog, or printing it off and leaving it lying around - might be the conversation started we need
Do let us know what’s worked for you, so we can update this blog and help others. Simple send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I know if the person I care for is going through the menopause?
The menopause is when our periods stop. In fact it’s the moment in time, which marks 12 months without a period. This typically happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years - but can be earlier or later, so it’s worth knowing what symptoms to look out for. It isn’t necessarily a quick process either, and symptoms can start several years before, lasting between 12 months and 5 years - this is called the ‘perimenopause’.
Symptoms of the perimenopause include:
This great article from Mpowered Women, gives a comprehensive list of symptoms to be aware of. It’s rather long, but worth knowing.
If we suspect the person we care for is going through the perimenopause or menopause, it is important to check in with their GP, as they may benefit from medical support such as HRT or emotional support.
What if their periods are problematic?
Sometimes periods can become beyond manageable. Either for the person we care for or for ourselves.
There are some conditions (such as endometriosis) which mean blood flow can be excessive, or the associated pain or low mood exceeds what is tolerable.
And some of us care for someone who is unable to understand what a period is, and gets very distressed.
In these types of situations or if we have noticed a change in our cared-for’s cycle or symptoms, it is really important to contact their GP.
There are medical interventions, such as the contraceptive pill, that may be suitable and in some cases can even stop the periods. This is an important conversation to have with their GP, and to understand the pros and cons.
What if their periods stop?
There are several reasons that periods may stop. These include:
Medication, such as the contraceptive pill
Sudden weight loss
If we notice a change in our cared-fors’ menstrual cycle or a full stopping of their periods, it’s essential that we book an appointment with their GP as soon as possible.
How do I care for someone who is incontinent and has periods?
There are pros and cons to using incontinence and or sanitary protection when someone is menstruating.
It's important to note that while a sanitary towel will absorb blood, it will not absorb urine. So one solution may be to secure a sanitary towel inside an incontinence pad or nappy.
Bladder and Bowel UK have further advice on managing menstruation and incontinence.