National-level data on the age at first period hasn’t been collected until a recent Ministry of Health survey, which University of Otago researchers used to estimate how many girls started their periods at primary or intermediate school.
The research, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal recommends primary schools are the best place to educate girls about periods and provide sanitary bins and pads to avoid disruption to schooling and undue embarrassment.
Family Planning National Health Promotion Advisor Amanda Hargreaves says the research confirms how important information and education is for young people – before they enter puberty.
“Young people need to know what to expect, to understand what is happening to their bodies, how they can manage it, and who they can go to for support and information.”
Puberty, including menstruation, is a component of sexuality education in The New Zealand Curriculum. Ministry of Education guidelines say it should be part of programmes from Year 5 onwards.
“While we need to teach about the menstrual cycle to all students, not just girls, our teaching programmes can and should do much more. We have a new suite of teaching resources to support teachers in this area. They include learning opportunities that support students in developing strategies to manage pubertal changes, carrying out inquiries into the range of menstrual products now available and the realities of period poverty, and investigations into the systems within their school that support girls in managing their period while at school.
“Students are encouraged to seek professional help if their periods are painful and not seen as a monthly rite of passage. These investigations can also be used to inform senior management and Boards of Trustees about gaps or issues with their provision of services,” Ms Hargreaves says.
“In line with the Ministry of Education guidelines, our Navigating the Journey resources introduce the concept of menstruation in Year 5 – it’s important that all young people understand about menstruation and it’s relationship with conception – we’re well past the time when this is an issue only for the girls.”