Foreword: This is a blog post targeted at female and only females. Consider yourself warned, guys.
Unless you don't have a womb/uterus, in your 'child bearing years', we will usually have that inevitable month visit by our 'favourite aunt', hence the term AV (Auntie Visit), and many other variations of the Monthly Period (MP).
Of course there are exceptions to the monthly AV,
1. The girl hasn't come of age (nowadays girls as young as 8 starts menstruating)
2. Hormonal imbalance
4. Pregnancy (yay! for me anyway as I'm trying to conceive)
5. removal/absence of womb
A young female is said to have reached menarche when she has her first menstrual cycle begin with the excretion of blood from her womb.
Quoted from wikipedia.org
Menarche is the culmination of a series of physiological and anatomic processes of puberty:
Attainment of a sufficient body mass (typically 17% body fat).
Disinhibition of the GnRH pulse generator in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus
Secretion of estrogen by the ovaries in response to pituitary hormones.
Over an interval of about 2 to 3 years, estrogen stimulates growth of the uterus (as well as height growth, breast growth, widening of the pelvis, and increased regional adipose tissue).
Estrogen stimulates growth and vascularity of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus.
Fluctuations of hormone levels can result in changes of adequacy of blood supply to parts of the endometrium.
Death of some of the endometrial tissue from these hormone or blood supply fluctuations leads to deciduation, a sloughing of part of the lining with some blood flow from the vagina.
A specific hormonal signal for menarche is not known; menarche as a discrete event is thought to be the relatively chance result of the gradual thickening of the endometrium induced by rising but fluctuating pubertal estrogen.
The menstruum, or "flow," consists of a combination of fresh and clotted blood with endometrial tissue. The initial flow of menarche is usually brighter red than mature menstrual flow. It is often scanty in amount and may be very brief, even a single instance of "spotting." Like other menses, menarche may be accompanied by abdominal cramping.
Now this is a very interesting read on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation_and_the_origins_of_culture
Anyway, I am digressing.
Old wives tale as far as AV is concerned varies from culture to culture.
In Eastern/Asian culture, traditionally menstrual blood is treated as 'dirty' and 'filthy' and the implication of that perception is that women are severely restricted in their actions and freedom in daily life, traditionally of course.
Here are some random Old Wives Tales (OWT) I had been exposed to in the past - I won't say I agree with all of them, just sharing them and up to you to decide if there is any truth in these OWT:
(A) Well-being of the female herself -
1. Do not drink or consume icy drink/food, best if not chilled - warm food/drink are recommended during that time of the month. It is said that the 'cold' things we put into our bodies will result in blood clots and causes cramps, or in extreme cases, stop the menstrual flow for awhile then when it flows again, sometimes after a few days, it will come with a vengeance, painful cramps.
2. Avoid consuming acidic food, especially sour-tasting food like preserved plums prior to your AV. By 'prior', it can mean up to a week before your first day of MP. This is supposed to cause even more cramps and pain or sometimes even more bleeding.
3. Avoid washing your hair when you are menstruating.
By that, some even go to the extent of avoiding cold bath water or cold shower and only bathe with hot/warm water, careful not to wet their hair. The reason being it will 'stop' the menstrual flow as the temple of your head is like the main point in Eastern traditional medicine that affects your bodily function.
However I think the philosophy is that the female is 'weak' when she is losing blood hence this is supposed to 'protect' her from the cold energy from being transferred into her body. The Yin (cold) and Yang (hot). Doesn't apply to me as my "energy" is all messed up due to too much Western medical intervention in my attempt to conceive.
4. Eat 'warm' food, and food that encourages blood circulation towards the end of your MP to 'flush out' the remaining 'dirty blood'. Example of 'warm' food are anything cooked with ginger, including home-made ginger wine, even ginger tea (they even have it in packets/granules) is supposed to help ease the cramps and ease the flow of MP.
5. Keep your lower belly and your lower back warm. That is supposed to keep the blood circulation smooth and will ease your cramps.
And there are many more Food/drink you may or may not consume before, during and after your MP. End of well-being part.
(B) Taboo during MP
1. Females are considered 'unlucky' during that time of the month and should separately carry on her daily tasks and do not have any physical contact, especially with the males. So no intercourse during MP.
2. They cannot touch scared stuff on the altar of the ancestors are they are considered 'impure' during MP. Most Asian cultures forbid them from entering sacred worship places. Buddhism however, DOES NOT hold this belief and only treat this as a natural monthly phenomenon of excretion from female body. It is more of a cultural taboo and not a religious restriction.
3. Some cultures have some kind of practice in disposing the used sanitary towels/pads/napkins - some ethnic culture dictates that female must wash the towels clean before disposing of them and some do not wash them but just add some table salt in it before throwing them away.
Some even go to the extent of scaring young girls by saying some ghosts and evil spirits feed on menstrual blood and if they don't have enough, they will trace back to you by the scent of your blood and appear before you. I think the rationale behind this is hygiene. The rubbish/garbage disposal wasn't as efficient in the yester years hence washing the pads is a practice ingrained from the previous generation who used cloth pads/towels which are reusable before the advent of those with adhesive.
EVOLVING SANITARY PAD or TOWELS or NAPKINS
The sanitary pad/towels have evolved rapidly over the last 50 years. However, due to the disposable nature of the mass production catered to the majority of females, the traditional cloth sanitary pads are seeing a reemergence with their better and improved versions compared to their predecessors - the start up kit does cost a bomb, last I checked.
Despite them costing a bomb, I guess if you care about the environment and do not wish to contribute to more waste, going green and going back to natural towels/pads is the way to go... I just am not that 'moved' to purchase it yet. Don't flame me please.
I am not sure of old wives tales in other non-East Asian cultures. I welcome sharing/comments. Till the next month, hang in there, ladies!!