Last month ACOG (the American Committee of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) published a report recommending that teenage girls, their parents, and their clinicians consider the menstrual cycle as the “fifth vital sign” of health. In this landmark announcement, this group of women’s health experts suggested that teens keep track of their periods and develop cycle awareness to help clinicians with early diagnosis of reproductive health issues like PCOS, thyroid disease, and endometriosis, which can be indicated by abnormally long cycles, excessive bleeding, or lack of periods entirely. The report includes guidelines on what should be considered outside the normal range when it comes to a teen’s cycle experience - from the onset of periods, to cycle length, to duration of the flow.The ACOG report states: “By including an evaluation of the menstrual cycle as an additional vital sign, clinicians reinforce its importance in assessing overall health status for patients and caretakers. Just as abnormal blood pressure, heart rate, or respiratory rate may be key to diagnosing potentially serious health conditions, identification of abnormal menstrual patterns in adolescence may improve early identification of potential health concerns for adulthood.”HALLELUIAH!! I would have loved THAT to have been part of my conversation as a teenager with all my period issues! I’ve long known the menstrual cycle to be a signifier of our health (you can read my own guidelines on what it means to have a “normal” period here), but I also know the menstrual cycle is the key to developing and nurturing our health.
How to help the teen in your life
If you are the mother, aunt, sister, or godmother of a teenage girl, this report contains crucial information that I believe ought to be conveyed with the same importance as instructions on how to use a tampon or pad. Most of us are comfortable now with sharing the latter with teens - gone are the days when teens would be shocked and horrified by the arrival of their first period, I hope - but all of us adult women, we need to support the younger generation now beyond the practicalities. A great book to help start a teen on this journey is “Cycle Savvy” by Toni Weschler (who wrote the comprehensive cycle knowledge bible “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”). Of course, it’s a little like what they tell you in the airplane safety schpeel - “help yourself before you help others.” Or - lead by example! If you’re living in your Flo and reaping the benefits then you are better equipped to support young women in learning, appreciating, and understanding their menstrual cycles. From this position you can give the gift of hormonal imbalance to others. As the mother of a daughter, I am thrilled that this report was created by ACOG. Although I know that, when the time comes, I will teach my daughter the art of cycle tracking, cycle awareness, and cycle syncing, I am happy that now a certain standard of care when it comes to young women’s reproductive health will become the expected practice. I am glad that we are finally seeing the period as indicator of our overall health and well-being, rather than just something to be suffered through, ignored, or hidden away. That said, there’s one thing missing from this otherwise encouraging report that concerns me, and that’s how these reproductive health issues will be treated, once they are diagnosed.
When the Pill is the problem
Early diagnosis is an important step forward in how we care for women’s health. However, if the primary or only treatment offered to teen girls is the birth control pill or hormone-based IUD, then we are missing out on a huge opportunity to truly help our young women. If the teen in your life is dealing with reproductive health issues like those mentioned in the report, then consulting a doctor is an important part of getting her back on track. However, we must always question the prescription of hormonal birth control as it never treats the health issue, but only masks the symptoms. Once your teen decides to come off, and this might be years down the line, she will discover the health issue will return and possibly be worse than before. If the teen in your life is dealing with very common problems like acne or PMS then the Pill is not the answer there either. Again, it will only mask these issues, not solve them. Although it can be very tempting to reach for these drugs to put a stop to the problem, it’s important to know that doing so can set a young women up for a lifetime of side effects (such as depression, low libido, anxiety, hair loss, cancer risk, and even life-threatening blood clots) and suppressed functioning of her endocrine, metabolic, and immune systems. It really can have a serious domino effect for her health.
Finding your Flo as a young woman
The source of hormonal imbalance issues in teen girls is mainly diet, exposure to synthetic estrogens in everything from cosmetics to shampoos, and stress. While some cycle irregularity is normal during teenage years (your reproductive system does take a few years to mature) we should not be seeing the symptoms to the extent that we are in new generations. Teaching teens to be conscious of their cycles AND teaching them to live in harmony with their hormones will go a long way to saving them much suffering. Although this is not an area I detail extensively in my book “WomanCode,” teen girls can absolutely follow the exact same Flo Living diet and lifestyle plan outlined there from the time they begin cycling. As I recommend for all women, start simply by layering foods in a cycle-synced pattern and build from there. What if a girl’s first period were not only met with a care package of tampons and pads, but also a copy of “Cycle Savvy” and “WomanCode”? If you’re reading this thinking of the teen daughter who is possibly in your future, it’s good to know that the gift of hormonal balance can be given when she’s still in the womb. Prepping yourself for a healthy pregnancy will be one of the best things you can do for your daughter. But, if you’ve come to Flo Living already with a pre-teen or teen in the family, then know that it’s never too late to start living in and loving your Flo. Share your journey with her, she’ll surely thank you for it. Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this - the science of your body is on your side!to your FLO,AlisaGood things come in threes:
I want to hear from you!
First, have you shared Flo Living with your family? Second, what do you wish you knew as a teenager? Third, everyone you know is hormonal – spread a little good ovary karma and share this article on social ;)
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