Congratulations on your healthy curiosity about what's happening. You and your body are changing a lot right now, or you will be soon, and this section explains the changes that happen during female puberty.
Puberty is the time when you start to change from a child to an adult. Puberty is normal — it happens to everyone. You may be looking forward to female puberty or dreading it — or feel both ways! You'll go through a lot of changes, but you will still be YOU — with some important differences. Try to think of it as one of the great adventures of your life, because it is.
What is Female Puberty? You've changed a lot since you were born, even more since you were a little kid, and you'll change a whole lot more before you become an adult. Puberty is when your body begins to biologically mature.
The main change during female puberty is the development of sexual characteristics, like breasts and the growth of pubic hair. When female puberty is complete, a girl is physically able to have a baby.
The physical and emotional changes of female puberty don't always happen together. It's possible that you could begin to mature emotionally before any physical changes happen. In other words — you could feel older, but still look like a kid or you could look older, but still feel like a kid. Adolescence can be kind of crazy because you're no longer a child, but you're not yet an adult. The more aware you are of what's happening, the easier and less confusing it will be.
The Scientific Explanation If you're interested in the scientific explanation of what happens during female puberty — read on. Basically, puberty is all about hormones. Hormones are chemicals that have different jobs throughout the body. As you get older, your brain starts to make special hormones that are necessary for your ability to bear children. As you approach female puberty, both the brain and something called the pituitary gland begin releasing hormones. These hormones are sent to your ovaries, and stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen.
Hormones cause many of the physical and emotional changes that take place during puberty. Growth hormone is also produced in the pituitary gland, and is responsible for the growth spurt, including the lengthening of long bones (legs and arms), and the overall increase in size of the body and internal organs (such as the heart, lungs and uterus).
When Does Female Puberty Happen? Female puberty can start when you're 7 or not until you're 13, but it usually starts when you're 10. The process can take anywhere between one and a half to four years. Generally, girls can expect their first period about two to three years after the first signs of breast development.
Here are some clues that will help determine when you will get your period and begin female puberty: Heredity: Ask your mother or another female relative how old she was when she had her first period. You'll probably get yours at the same age. (Note: Doctors have found that the age of puberty is about a year younger now than it was for your mother's age group.) Race: African American girls usually show signs of puberty a bit earlier than Caucasian girls. Weight: Very thin girls begin to menstruate a bit later; heavier girls may begin early. Girls who develop earlier than most of their friends often feel "weird" or self-conscious. That's normal. But girls who develop later than most also feel strange — kind of left out of the club. Remember, eventually all girls develop into young women on their own time.
Developments During Female Puberty
What's happening to my body? Here are the main things that might already be happening, or that will happen soon. It's OK if these things haven't happened yet. Changes usually happen in the order listed below, but everyone is different — this may not be the exact order for you.
Growing really fast You may grow faster than you did during childhood. This is known as a "growth spurt." First, you may notice your feet and hands getting bigger. Next, the arm and leg bones grow, making you taller. This may be an awkward time until the rest of the body catches up. Once it does, your body will be more proportional. You may also gain some weight to match the increase in your bone size.
Getting breasts Your breasts develop in stages. At first you may notice what feel like little "buds," or swellings, under your nipples. After that, your breasts will gradually get bigger and fuller, and may become a little sore. One breast may grow more than the other at first, but they'll even out later (Most women have one breast that is larger than the other, but the difference is usually small.). Remember, every girl is different. How large or small your breasts become depends on the physical, genetic traits in your family. Full breast development takes two to three years.
Growing body hair Soon, curly hair will start growing in the pubic area, the area that extends from your lower stomach to between your legs. In some girls, pubic hair may appear before breast development. At first, this hair is soft and there's not much of it. Later, the hair grows longer and becomes a little kinky and curly. Although it starts growing between the legs, it eventually covers the entire pubic area and may include the upper, inner thighs. This usually takes two to three years. A few months after pubic hair begins to grow, hair will also grow under your arms.
A more "womanly" shape As your pelvis (the large bone across your hips) begins to grow, your hips get wider, your breasts develop and your waist gets smaller. In other words, girls' bodies become softer and more shapely. Some girls also gain weight quickly during this time.
Increased sweating Your sweat glands will become larger and more active, and you'll sweat more. This may happen even before your breasts develop.
Female Puberty— Oily skin and hair During female puberty, the pores in your skin produce more oil, especially on your face. This can cause acne. You may have to wash your hair and face more often now that you're going through puberty.
Oily skin and hair During female puberty, the pores in your skin produce more oil, especially on your face. This can cause acne. You may have to wash your hair and face more often now that you're going through puberty.
Changes in your genitals Your genitals also grow and change during puberty. Your outside parts (the vulva) are enclosed by two sets of "lips." The larger lips have hair; the inner, smaller lips don't. These increase in size a little bit. Inside your body the vagina is getting longer and the uterus is getting bigger.
Discharge This is a word for fluid that's produced by your body to moisten and cleanse the vagina. Before you start your period, you'll probably notice yellow or white stains inside your underwear. This is natural moisture from the vagina. It's perfectly normal and it's a sign that menstruation will probably start in about six to 18 months. You could start wearing pantiliners to help protect your panties.
The discharge may be heavy or barely noticeable — both are normal. However, if the discharge has a bad smell or you have any pain, soreness, or itching in the genital area, it may be a sign of infection. In this case, you should see a doctor.
Your period Menstruation can be very unpredictable for the first two years. It typically takes one to two years for cycles to develop, so you may not be regular for a while.
What's Happening to My Brain? You may have already noticed that you're changing emotionally. Some changes are really positive — others are more challenging. Here are some things you might be feeling:
Your thinking changes It's called cognitive development — and it means you're now able to think more abstractly — more like an adult than a kid.
You can express your feelings a lot better Your feelings might start to make a lot more sense to you. You may find that you can express what you're feeling a lot better, whether you're feeling happy or sad. This gives you a clearer sense of self — of who you are.
You feel really emotional You may get mad at parents and friends easily. A little thing that wouldn't have bothered you earlier drives you crazy now. Your kid sister might get on your nerves. Feeling angry is normal during puberty because of the hormonal changes. In fact, for the same reason, many of us can become overly emotional right before our periods.
"Mood swings" are also common throughout puberty. This is when you feel really happy one minute and then really angry or even sad the next minute. So if you're feeling angry, you may want to count to 10 (it works!) and think about it before you yell at your mom or friend.
You cry a lot You may cry because of something very serious that makes you feel sad or disappointed — or you may burst into tears because you left your favorite hair band in the gym. This is also normal! It happens to a lot of women having Premenstrual Syndrome too, and will happen to most girls throughout puberty. Just accept that you're a little emotional right now.
You feel a lot more womanly Some girls find that they're feeling more feminine. Whether you prefer playing hockey with the guys or talking about nail polish, remember — it's normal!
You think you're weird You probably compare yourself to your friends, and feel like there's something really wrong with you. You may feel unsure of yourself. Well guess what? Everyone else does, too! Your personality is growing and you're becoming even more unique — just when all you want is to fit in more easily! Fortunately, your personality will win this one, and you'll become a self-assured adult. Just remember that everyone else your age is self-conscious too, so chances are they won't be worrying about you!
It's Only Puberty: Don't Freak Out We keep telling you how normal all of this is for a reason — it really is normal! If you can keep from freaking out, you can use this special time in your life to learn about yourself. Here are some ways to keep from freaking out: Take care of yourself: Be careful with food cravings (like wanting only ice cream for dinner). Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Exercise. This is good for your body and mind. Taking out your anger on a tennis ball or treadmill can make you feel great again, too. Talk to someone: Amazingly, parents and teachers can be really helpful, and you can count on other adults, too, if you're more comfortable with that (see Who To Talk To). Your friends might really appreciate knowing that you're going through the same thing they are, but don't depend on them for real information. Go to someone who's been through it. Concentrate on school and hobbies: Your brain is growing, and this is a great opportunity to use it. The hobbies that you liked in the past will be even more fun now, and you'll develop new interests. Do something creative to express all your new emotions.
Who Can I Talk to About This Stuff?
Adults The first person you talk to should be an adult, because someone your own age may not have their facts straight, even if they think they do. It's important for you to get the right answers to your questions. It's great if you and your mother or some other adult have already talked about lots of stuff. Then, asking questions is a piece of cake. But in some families, talking about the body is limited to what to eat and how to take care of your teeth. Most girls need to get up the courage to ask questions. They may feel awkward and embarrassed. That's perfectly normal, but don't let that stop you from talking to someone, because talking to someone about what you feel (whether it's fear, worry, happiness or confusion) is a big relief and a comfort.
Friends and relatives In many families, there may be someone instead of a mother whom you feel more comfortable with, such as your stepmother, father, a grandma, aunt, or older sister. Some girls talk with a teacher, the school nurse, or their doctor. Others may know a friend's mother who's easy to talk to.
Timing is everything Once you decide whom to talk to, you'll want to choose the right time. For example, if you want to ask your mother, wait for a time that she isn't busy doing other things. If your mom seems to be busy all the time, you may want to say, "Mom, there's something I'd like to talk to you about when you have time." This way, you won't keep putting off the discussion.
You are the best judge of how to talk to the people in your life, but this may be one way to approach the subject. We suggest that before you have the conversation, you first write down your questions. This way, you won't forget any. However you do it, both of you are likely to feel glad you talked.
NOTE: If you can't imagine talking to any of the adults in your life, it will be even more important to educate yourself. Here are some ways you can consult the experts when you have questions:
Female Puberty & Ask BeingGirl We have plenty of health experts on hand to answer your questions. Here are some questions other girls have had about puberty.
"I feel scared about the changes I'm going through. HELP!!!!!"
BeingGirl Experts: Don't worry. You're in good company! Many girls feel the same way. It's scary and EXCITING to go through female puberty. It's not just the physical changes but all the social changes you go through too. It always helps to understand everything you're going through. Puberty is new...you don't have all the answers, but the adults around you probably do! Don't be afraid to ask!
"I got my period and I haven't told my mom yet. It's really hard for me to talk about things like this. Any suggestions?"
BeingGirl Experts: Lots of girls have the same concern. Here's something that I've heard works: Leave your mom a note, somewhere where only she will find it (on her pillow or in her underwear drawer). Tell her you got your period. Or, go shopping with her and casually drop a box of pads or tampons into the cart. She'll definitely get the message. Hopefully you and your mom can work towards opening the line of communication. She can be your best friend during this time in your life. If you don't want her to tell others in the family or her friends, say so.
"I'm 13, and I haven't had my period yet, but my breasts started to grow...and then stopped!!! Will I have to wear a training bra for the rest of my life?"
BeingGirl Experts: No, you won't be wearing a training bra forever. Your breasts grow in stages during female puberty. At first you may notice small bumps or breast buds under your nipples. After that your breast will gradually grow larger and fuller, and they may feel sore. One breast may grow faster than the other, but they will more or less even out in time. Just remember every girl is different. How large or small your breasts become depends on physical traits passed from generation to generation. Learn about female puberty and get helpful advice at BeingGirl.com.