Puberty in Youth: Ladies in the Making
Puberty can feel like an uncomfortable discussion to have with your daughter, but it is a necessary conversation that will help her feel confident as she navigates adolescence. There are several steps to womanhood you need to be aware of that can begin as early as eight years old. Once you start noticing these changes, it’s time to talk to your daughter about what is happening to her body and reassure her that it is completely normal, even if it feels weird or embarrassing for her.
Meghan Bardwell, a Registered Nurse and the founder of Bloom Learning, recommends starting this discussion early. “Talking about their bodies in a safe environment can help lead to more in-depth conversations later on and as puberty progresses,” she says. “There’s such a stigma around periods and puberty that everyone keeps it veiled in secrecy, but it’s important to challenge that and let your child understand the importance of this bodily function.”
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Breast formation. This is usually the first physical sign that a girl is hitting puberty, which is often accompanied by growth spurts and emotional changes such as outbursts, frustration, anger, and crying easily.
Leg, arm, and pubic hair. Sometimes, body hair is the first sign of puberty in girls. This means hair on the legs, under the arms, and around the genitals will become thicker. Your daughter may express an interest in shaving this hair, but remind her that the hair is natural and does not need to be removed for any reason other than personal preference. When the time comes, be sure to teach her how to shave properly.
Increase in height and weight. Your daughter may express dread about being taller than the boys in her class, and she may start to struggle with her self image because she will notice that she’s gaining weight. Explain to her that girls usually hit puberty before boys do, which is why she may be taller than some of the boys her age. Because of this growth spurt, and because her hips are widening, she is gaining a normal amount of weight to suit her body as a new woman.
First period. A girl’s first period will come about two-three years after they start puberty. While the average age in the United States for girls to start their period is 12, it can sometimes start as early as 9 or as late as 13. Even before your daughter starts her period, make sure her purse and backpack is stocked with pads, tampons, and pantyliners for her to use in case of an emergency. Cramping and heavy bleeding are normal period symptoms, but if her symptoms are severe, you may want to discuss how to treat them with a gynecologist. “Birth control can be beneficial to help with severe periods, premenstrual symptoms like PMS/PMDD, endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and regulating irregular periods,” says Bardwell. “It’s important to discuss with a gynecologist, women’s health nurse practitioner, or midwife about all the different options available, the risks and benefits of each, and make the decision that’s best for your daughter.”
Woman’s Hospital offers a class called Body Basics for Girls, which will teach you and your daughter everything you need to know about puberty in girls. Visit womans.org, click on “classes,” then “events.” Meghan Bardwell recently started Bloom Learning, an in-depth program with classes on puberty and sex education for high school girls. Her website, bloomwithmeg.com, will launch within the first few weeks of February. Baton Rouge General also offers a class for girls, Girl Talk, that is led by OB/GYN physicians. The class focuses on what girls experience during puberty, including skin changes, first periods, and breast development. More information can be found at brgeneral.org.