There comes a time in the life of every organism on the face of this planet where they reproduce and bring forth new life. This is essential for the continual survival of that organism. For reproduction to take place, changes take place in the body of the organism, to prepare it take on this role of procreation. These changes make the body mature and able to take on this daunting task. These changes are evidenced by the release of hormones (chemicals produce by the body to help the body in many of its life processes), the maturing of certain body parts and certain behaviours that will be exhibited by the organism to show that it is ready to reproduce.
In girls, this is the same and also profound. She feels these changes, sees them as it takes over her body. It could be discomforting sometimes, but she would get used to it. At this moment, the girl is said to have reached the age of puberty. She can now be referred to as a woman.
How does it begin?
Puberty generally starts earlier for girls, sometime between 8 and 13 years of age. For most girls, the first evidence of puberty is breast development, but it can be the growth of pubic hair. As her breasts start to grow, a girl will initially have small, firm, tender lumps (called buds) under one or both nipples; the breast tissue will get larger and become less firm in texture over the next year or two. Dark, coarse, curly hair will appear on her labia (the folds of skin surrounding the vagina), and later, similar hair will begin growing under her arms.
The first signs of puberty are followed 1 or 2 years later by a noticeable growth spurt. Her body will begin to build up fat, particularly in the breasts and around her hips and thighs, as she takes on the contours of a woman. Her arms, legs, hands, and feet will also get bigger.
The culminating event will be the arrival of menarche, her first period (menstruation). Depending on the age at which they begin their pubertal development, girls may get their first period between the ages of 9 and 16.
Physical signs of puberty in girls
- Breast Development
The earliest sign of puberty in most girls is the development of breast “buds,” nickel-sized bumps under the nipple. It is not unusual for breast growth to start on one side before the other. It’s also common for breast buds to be somewhat tender or sore. Uneven breast growth and soreness are both totally normal and usually improve with time.
- Body Hair
Coarser hair will begin to grow in the genital area, under the arms, and on the legs. In some girls (about 15%), pubic hair may be the first sign of puberty―showing up before breast budding starts.
- Vaginal discharge
Some girls experience a small to moderate amount of clear or white vaginal discharge that starts about 6-12 months before their first period. This is a normal response to growing amounts of the hormone estrogen in the body.
While timelines can vary, most girls get their first period within 2 – 3 years after the development of breast buds. The average age for girls to get their first period in the United States is around age 12. It’s important to emphasize that periods are a normal part of growing up. Young girls should know that it’s okay to talk about periods and ask questions about them. Some young people may have anxiety about how to handle their first period, given that it can happen unexpectedly. Providing supplies (pads, tampons, and pantiliners) for your child’s locker or backpack and reviewing resources at school, including the school nurse, can help alleviate this worry.
While some girls will have bright red blood with their first period, other girls may only have spotting with red-brown discharge―both are normal! While some people will have periods once a month, periods may be irregular in the first few years as the body adapts to rapid physiological changes. Also, normal cycles of periods can be as short as 21 days or as long as 35… so even people with regular cycles might not have a period every single month!
Abdominal cramping or pain with periods is also common. For most people, ibuprofen or naproxen used as needed are the best medicines to help with period cramps. If menstrual cramps are severe or causing your child to miss school. It is advisable to talk to your pediatrician about other options.
- Increase in Height
Most girls have their growth spurt at a younger age than boys do. The fastest rate of height growth usually occurs in girls between when breast buds start to develop and about 6 months before they get their period. Once a girl has had her first period, her growth has already started to slow down. Most girls grow another 1-2 inches after getting their period, but increased height beyond that is less common.
- Wider Hips
Her hips will get wider and her waist may get smaller.
Other Common Changes
Many young people develop acne during puberty. This can be related to changes in hormone levels during this time. Sweating under the armpits and increased body odor are also normal changes―and why most girls begin using deodorants and/or antiperspirants at the start of puberty. With more oil and sweat being made by the skin, girls this age may start wanting to shower or shampoo their hair more often.
Some girls start their puberty a little early or late. A pediatrician should be consulted, it is important. An age which is considered too early would be 8 and too late, 13.
Taking care of a girl going through puberty
At this point, she would be confused and uncomfortable about her body. A strong reassuring presence will be what she needs at this time. A parent is the best companion at this moment of a girl’s life. The parent should concentrate on talking to the girl about these topics.
- The meaning of the changes in her body
- All about the menstrual cycle
- Sex education
- Sexual attractions towards other people and the same attraction shown towards her
- Body shaming
- And very important, personal hygiene
It is hoped that the parent should gather a lot of accurate information about the above listed topics to relate this to the girl. This is part of empowering women with the right information to live a healthy and productive life.