Let’s talk about menstruation. For some, it is the dreaded “M” word no one wants to hear. Also known as menses, period, that time of the month, Aunt Flo, the vacation, and many other euphemisms, the menstrual cycle is a natural process that most women experience in their lifetimes. While it is still a taboo topic for girls and women all over the world, it was never stigmatized in Islamic tradition. It is mentioned in the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, did not shy away from answering questions about it from his followers.
Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the two greatest sources of hadith literature filled with Prophetic teachings and practices, have whole sections dedicated to Islamic etiquette regarding menstruation. If you are the parent or guardian of a daughter or daughters, then it is time to normalize the term or one of its code names in your home. Although fathers and mothers may be anxious about discussing puberty with their child, at some point, they will have to have the menstruation conversation. But no need to panic if you are equipped with facts and sound advice!
Muslim parents are likely to avoid the topic of menstruation for various reasons, one being its association with sex education. There is a verse that mentions menstruation in the Quran in the context of sexual intercourse between the spouses. Allah says:
“They ask you (Oh Prophet) about menstruation. Say, ‘Beware of its harm! So, keep away and do not have intercourse with your wives during their monthly cycles until they are purified…”
(Surah Al-Baqarah: 2:222)
Moms and Dads may not be ready for the complexities of that discussion; however, it is only one component. Families can easily tackle the subject without diving deep into matters they feel their child may not be ready to hear. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the onset of puberty, the time in life when a person becomes sexually mature, typically occurs between ages 8 and 13 for girls.” This is when Aunt Flo makes her first visit – without calling ahead of time. Sometimes it can occur earlier as precocious puberty or later with delayed puberty. Sexually mature does not necessarily mean that your child is ready for a comprehensive sex talk, but it does mean that their bodies are capable of reproduction. It is better to prepare them for the physical and emotional changes they will encounter ahead of time.
Tips for Talking with Girls about Puberty
Here are some tips for parents on how to talk to girls about puberty.
1. Educate yourself!
If you have ever taken a plane ride, then you have heard the instructions from flight attendants about the unlikely event of changes in cabin pressure in an airplane. The yellow masks of the aircraft emergency oxygen system will drop down and adult passengers are advised they should secure their masks first before attempting to put one on a child. Likewise, it is important to educate ourselves about puberty before attempting to educate our children.
Before approaching your daughter to speak to them about menstruation, be sure to read all about this stage of development and its physical, psychological, and spiritual implications.
Physical changes include:
- An increase in height, curves
- Onset of menses
- Breast growth
- Pubic hair growth (Source: kidshealth.org)
Psychological changes include:
- Mood swings
- Changes in relationships
- Feeling overly sensitive
- Becoming more self-conscious
- Peer pressure
Spiritual changes include:
- Religious accountability
- Praying regularly
- Fasting the obligatory fasts (i.e. Ramadan) and making up for missed fasts
- Learning about ritual purification
- Taking on the hijab
(We will discuss these in more detail in point 6. below.)
2. Plan to have the discussion early.
As you can see, there is plenty to discuss. The next step is to decide when to approach your child. The best time to start talking to your daughter about puberty is before it happens. Since we do not know exactly when that will be, we must choose wisely. Every girl is different, so there is no way to know exactly when she will get her first period. Try to speak to her about menstruation when she is close to her tweens. Any time from the age of seven to nine may be appropriate.
Cath Hakanson, a sex educator living in Australia and creator of sexedrescue.com, says that there are four indicators to look out for.
- The age at onset of the girl’s mother. You may be able to predict when a girl’s first period will happen according to when her mother’s began, plus or minus one year.
- Breast development. Hakanson says, “Your daughter will have been developing breasts for about two years. Now, this doesn’t mean that her breasts will be fully developed and adult-like. It just means that she will have had something growing on her chest for about 2 years.” Keep an eye out for protruding breast buds. If your daughter is on the heavier side, it may be more difficult to distinguish between fat and breast tissue, so be extra vigilant for any changes, but discreet. Be careful never to fat shame your child.
- The appearance of pubic hair. “Your daughter will have had some pubic and/or underarm hair for at least the last four to six months,” suggests Hakanson. Be casual about discussing body changes. Ask your child to tell you of any new hair growth they see.
- An increase in vaginal discharge. If you notice anything abnormal or are unsure, speak to your child’s pediatrician. They may be able to guide you best about when and how to tell your child that menstruation is imminent. Try to find a female pediatrician for your daughter if possible.
3. Speak to them in private.
Do you know what is more embarrassing for your preteen daughter than speaking about puberty? Doing so in front of someone else, like a brother, grandparent, uncle, cousin, teacher, etc. Create a private and comfortable setting for you and your child to have an open conversation.
Our religious tradition requires us to advise in private, even when speaking to someone about their faults or mistakes. Imam Shafi, may Allah have mercy on him, said,
“Whoever admonishes his brother in private has been sincere to him and protected his honor. Whoever admonishes him in public has humiliated him and betrayed him.”
(Hilyat al-Awliya, 13854)
Things you can discuss in private are:
- Vaginal discharge types, color, and odor.
- Signs of menstruation (blood on underwear, spotting, seeing blood when wiping).
- Body odor and how to keep oneself looking and smelling clean.
- How to use feminine hygiene products appropriately.
- Where to stash products and how to carry them in case of emergencies.
- Pain management and dealing with emotional changes.
4. Share your own experience.
Did your mom teach you about puberty? Where were you when you first got your period? Were you in pain or embarrassed? These may be experiences that your daughter will want to hear about from you. Your own recollections about going through puberty can help put her at ease. The whole of the Sunnah is proof for this point. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his companions shared their narratives and scholars have documented these oral traditions so we can apply them to our own lives. Imagine the impact your personal stories will have on your children and how they can help them navigate through trying times.
5. Prepare them for their religious obligations.
Once your daughter starts menstruating, she will have reached the age of accountability and must begin fulfilling certain religious obligations. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“The Pen has been lifted from three: from the child until he reaches puberty, from the sleeper until he wakes up, and from the one who has lost his mind until he recovers.”
It is important that you discuss these spiritual adjustments with her, so she understands their whys and wherefores. All of this information may seem overwhelming, so you advise her to take things step by step. Part of the changes that she will make to her daily life is establishing the five daily prayers at their prescribed times. As parents, we should set an example for our children and get them used to seeing and participating in the prayer schedule early. Once these become a habit, then the transition becomes much easier. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, instructed,
“Tell your children to pray when they are seven years old and admonish them if they do not pray when they are ten, and separate them in their beds.”
Likewise, our daughters should know that during their cycle, they will not be required to pray and how to achieve ritual purity once it is over. They should know what to look for to ensure they are ready to begin praying again. The same rules apply to fasting during the month of Ramadan with the exception that they will have to make up missed fasts. Consider researching these topics along with your daughter, so she can get a good grasp of what is required of her going forward.
It is the parents’ or caregiver’s responsibility to also teach new personal hygiene requirements like how to perform ghusl and removing underarm and pubic hair. In addition to these, they should discuss Islamic manners regarding mixing with the opposite gender, managing relationships, and hijab.
6. Allow them to ask questions (and use wisdom while answering).
Aisha bint Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with her, commended those who were not shy to ask regarding religious matters. She reported:
“Asma, the daughter of Shakal, asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, about washing after menstruation. He said: Everyone amongst you should use water (mixed with the leaves of) the lote tree and cleanse herself well, and then pour water on her head and rub it vigorously till it reaches the roots of the hair. Then she should pour water on it. Afterwards she should take a piece of cotton smeared with musk and cleanse herself with it. Asma said: How should she cleanse herself with the help of that? Upon this he (the Prophet) said: Praise be to Allah, she should cleanse herself. Aisha said in a subdued tone that she should apply it to the trace of blood. She (Asma) then further asked about bathing after sexual intercourse. He said: She should take water and cleanse herself well or complete the ablution and then (pour water) on her head and rub it till it reaches the roots of the hair (of her) head and then pour water on her.” Aisha added: “How good are the women of Ansar (helpers) that their shyness does not prevent them from learning religion.”
There are many hadith in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, had to answer questions about menstruation. Although sometimes he felt bashful, he was thorough in his explanations, never leaving any room for doubts. His wives assisted him whenever it was needed, and they were his best students. According to the website Searchtruth, just the word menses appears 91 times in 64 ahadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari alone. If our Prophet Muhammad, who was of exemplary character and modesty, was not ashamed to answer questions about menstruation, then who are we to feel embarrassed to speak of it with our own children? Like the Prophet, we can be patient and help our loved ones understand their bodies and the changes they are experiencing.
In addition to these pieces of advice about how to approach the topic of menstruation with your daughter, most importantly be gentle and understanding. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, Allah is gentle, and He loves gentleness. He rewards for gentleness what is not granted for harshness, and He does not reward anything else like it.”
Big changes are underway for your beloved, therefore support her with love and compassion. Treat her to her favorite sweets or activities or buy her a gift. Take her shopping for feminine products and show her where she can find what she needs in public spaces. There are now “First Period Kits” or gifts for young girls that contain feminine hygiene products and special accessories available for purchase online to welcome your child into young adulthood.
If you come from a family in which talking about menstruation is seen as something shameful, break the cycle. Get your spouse on board with reminders about the life of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and how he advised his family and female followers. Fight culturally-driven period stigmas by empowering your daughters and letting them know there is nothing to be ashamed about. They will appreciate your openness and support. Period.
Here are some recommended readings that can be helpful for parent and daughter.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.