Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q.My mom told me to write to you. She said you taught her when she was my age and you helped her. She also said I’m stubborn and maybe I’ll listen to you. Here goes. I got my period a year ago. It’s always messed up. Sometimes it’s regular and other times I’m two or three weeks late. I’m not doing anything sexually, but I still get worried. Why is it late? How will I ever figure out when I’m able to get pregnant if the stupid thing is all over the place? I have an app for my phone, but it’s not much help because my body doesn’t seem to follow it. My mom said I’m too young to go to the doctor’s, and she also said I’m OK. If that’s true, why am I so messed up? Thanks.

13-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: How nice of your mom to remember me!

Being stubborn isn’t a bad thing. I read a book about parenting strong-willed children over and over when my own kids were young. Eventually, I threw the book away! Being stubborn may mean being strong enough to know what’s right and stick to it. It can be a good life skill.

At 13, though, development and search for independence can create a battle of wills between a young person and a parent. Your mom is there for you. It’s OK to be frustrated with her; I’m sure she has moments when she’s frustrated with you. This will pass. My adult children are my best friends now. Be patient with each other and continue talking things out.

Bodies aren’t computers. No matter what an app indicates, your body will do exactly what is right for you. Most young people have irregular periods when their menstrual cycles (periods) start. It’s OK. Your body isn’t messed up, it’s just adjusting. I know young people your age who experience a cycle every 28 to 30 days, and I know young people your age who skip months of periods, or even have two periods in a 30-day time span.

Keep track of your dates, and try to relax. If you’re still worried, why not schedule an appointment to see your pediatrician or family doctor? I don’t think you need to see a gynecologist yet, but it sounds as if you could use some reassurance. Taking with your pediatrician or your family health-care provider should ease your mind.

Your concerns about fertility (getting pregnant) show insight and wisdom. It’s wise to consider your body and how it works. You have time, though. When you want to have a baby, you will be able to track your cycles and figure out when you’re ovulating (releasing an egg). Your mom can help you understand your cycles as you grow older.

Thanks for writing. I hope this helped. Say hi to your mom for me. Good luck.

Q.My girlfriend said a missed period means she’s pregnant. We use contraception, yet she was late in May, then she started. She’s not pregnant. What’s up?

18-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: I linked your question to the above one from a young person to help explain how periods are not always regular. I’m glad you’re interested in understanding fertility.

You should both be aware of her cycles. You don’t mention what type of contraception you’re using. Some are more reliable than others. I’ll be happy to discuss this with both of you if you like.

Yes, missing a period is a sign of pregnancy, but periods can also be affected by other medical conditions and life changes. For example, stress can cause a late period, as can a major weight loss or problems with a person’s thyroid.

If your girlfriend continues to have irregular cycles, I suggest a visit to a gynecologist.

Thanks for writing.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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