Solving the Mystery of Puberty
Girls are showing signs of puberty as early as 7 years old, according to a recent report by the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society, and many aren’t prepared for the changes. Read on to learn what to expect when entering this stage of life.
What is puberty?
When girls begin the transition from childhood to adulthood, they start puberty. During puberty, your hormone levels fluctuate. You develop breasts and hair around your pubic area (around your vagina) and under your arms. You experience growth spurts. And you start your menstrual periods.
Your period: Not the start of a sentence
A girl is born with two small ovaries inside her abdomen on either side of her uterus (where a baby develops). Ovaries are filled with thousands of eggs, which allow women to have children. When you reach puberty, your ovaries release an egg each month. The tiny egg breaks down as it travels down towards the uterus and, along with the thick, bloody lining that builds up in the uterus between periods, passes out of the body through the vagina.
Girls generally begin menstruating as early as 9 years old and as late as 16. Athletic or very thin girls might not develop until a later age. Obese or inactive girls may develop earlier. Losing weight while in a growth spurt also can delay a girl’s periods.
Your menstrual cycle should run about 28 days, but between 21 and 35 is normal. Your menstrual period should last between 3 and 7 days. Your blood flow can vary from heavy to light during each period and from one period to the next.
Although many women complain about menstruation, having your first period means you can now one day bear children. That’s cause for celebration — not apprehension.
Am I normal?
Some girls develop faster than others, so you shouldn’t necessarily compare your body to your best friend’s. You should, however, talk to your doctor if you haven’t experienced any changes or growth by age 13.
Your sweat glands may go into overdrive and your skin might get oilier as you progress through puberty. To help keep your skin clear, gently wash your face at least once daily with soap and warm water. Scrubbing harshly might irritate your skin and cause more acne. Begin using deodorant/antiperspirant too.
It’s normal for many women to experience cramps or mild nausea during their periods. Taking an over-the-counter painkiller specially formulated to ease period symptoms can help, but if they become unbearable, your doctor might be able to prescribe something stronger. Using a heating pad also eases cramps.
A year or so after girls begin experiencing a yellow or white vaginal discharge, which helps to clean and moisten the vagina, most get their first period. But if you have itching, odor or irritation around your vagina, you might have an infection. Your best bet is to visit your doctor regularly during puberty.
If you haven’t gotten your first period about three years after your breasts begin taking shape, you should check in with your doctor. Most girls experience irregular periods during the first couple of years, so don’t worry if they’re difficult to predict, but carry spare pads or tampons with you, just in case.
Stress, vigorous exercise, weight loss or diet can effect the regularity of your periods, but you could also have a mild hormone imbalance, called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, if you also suffer from excessive acne, hair growth and weight problems. You could be at risk for anemia (iron deficiency) if you’re periods occur too close together, so it’s important for you to keep track of your periods on a calendar.
This time in life can prove psychologically and physically draining. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Gaining about 10 pounds a year is normal during puberty, and eating right is essential. Girls need iron, calcium and protein.
When their bodies start changing and they realize they’re growing up, some girls find it difficult to bear and begin binge eating (over-eating) and purging or starving their bodies of the nutrients they need to grow and keep adequate hormone levels. If you begin to excessively watch your weight, overly scrutinize and limit what you eat (as in, “I’ll just have 15 lettuce leaves and a half an apple”) or let exercise interfere with your life, you might have an eating disorder. You should talk to a guidance counselor or health care provider.
Some girls are surprised by how quickly their view of boys changes from “Heck no” to “Hello!” Kids are realizing they’re gay younger and younger, too. When you begin having feelings for boys or girls remember to use common sense about making sure you’re with the right person before you do something you might regret. As far as sex goes, the key word is protection. Be advised that you can get sexually transmitted diseases from oral (yes, it does count!) and vaginal sex.
Only the beginning
During this tumultuous period, it might be hard for teens to think of the future, but they must remember that puberty only lasts a few years. By your late teens, your menstrual cycle and sleep schedule will become more regular, your height will catch up to your weight, and your skin will clear up. Puberty prepares you for being a woman. Don’t forget you’ll be one soon enough!
Your Puberty Survival Kit
When life is unpredictable, it helps to be prepared. Carry this stuff in your backpack so you’ll be ready for anything – and feel more in control:
- A plastic or nylon case with a few maxi pads or tampons and spare change so you can buy more from a dispenser if you run out.
- A travel-size deodorant/antiperspirant.
- Astringent pads to sop sweat from your face and neck.
- Breath mints and travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste.
- If you’re overloaded with after-school activities, keep granola bars or trail mix with you to maintain balanced nutrient levels and energy.