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Girls and puberty

Puberty is when a girl grows up into a young woman. Everyone goes through it, but it can be a tough time. Here are the changes to expect.

Girls laughing.
Puberty is a time of many changes.

Note: We also have an article about Boys and puberty.

When you hit puberty, things change. Girls start to turn into women, and boys start to turn into men. The body changes and the way you look at the world often changes too.

Puberty is a gradual thing and everyone goes through it. Puberty happens to you even while you are getting your homework done, swimming at the beach or going to the movies. It is the body’s way of making it possible for you to have a baby later in life.

Whether you are a girl or a boy, you will experience the physical and emotional changes of adolescence. For girls, puberty can begin between 9 and 11 years old. For boys, it’s around 12 or 13. But it can begin earlier or later for boys or girls everyone is different.

Puberty is a time of many changes. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, you might feel there is no one to talk to. Parents often understand more than you would think! Don’t forget, they went through puberty too. If you don’t want to talk to your parents, you could try talking to a trusted relative or friend. Saying things out loud can be a good way of getting things clear in your mind.

You might find that you feel more emotional than usual.

What will happen to me?

During puberty, your body changes to the way it is going to be when you are an adult. You will probably gain weight, just as you have done since you were a baby. This is perfectly normal.

During puberty, it's normal to experience the changes described below:

Growing

You'll get taller, and this might happen quite quickly.

Breasts

In most girls, the first sign of puberty is when breasts start to develop. You might be eight, or you might be thirteen when this happens. Either way, this age range is perfectly normal. You may also find that your nipple area becomes more sensitive at the start of puberty.

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Some girls worry about the size of their breasts and think they are too big, or too small. Some girls worry about the shape of their nipples. There is no one right way for breasts to be.  Breasts, whatever the size or the shape, are capable of producing enough milk to feed a baby when the time comes. That’s the beauty of their design.

Hips

During puberty, you will gain some weight as your pelvic region begins to alter so that your body will be capable of bearing children later in life. During this process, your hips may widen and your thighs may become more rounded. Have a look at the other women in your family. Their body shapes are probably the form your own body will take. You will see other bodies too, especially in magazines and on TV. Sometimes it is hard to avoid comparing your own with these bodies and feeling you are too tall or too short, too fat or thin.

Most problems and dissatisfactions arise from comparison. Try to remember that there is no one ‘perfect’ shape. Women come in all shapes and sizes. If you are happy and healthy and comfortable with your body, then you will find it easier to be happy being you.

Hair

As you go through puberty, you will start to notice hair under your arms and in your pubic area. This will be fine and straight at first, and will become thicker and curlier as you get older. You may also find that you have more hair on your legs.

You might also find there is more hair on your arms and face than before. This is normal.

Hair growth will probably slow down once your hormones have settled down. It is probably more noticeable to you than to anyone else, but if it is worrying you, there are safe ways of removing unwanted hair growth. Again, it’s probably a good idea to talk about it first with a parent or an adult that you trust.

Periods

Each month, the uterus prepares for a possible pregnancy. The lining of the uterus thickens into a cushion of blood vessels, glands and liquid. If you become pregnant, this lining will be what nourishes a fertilised egg. If the egg is not fertilised, then the lining (mostly blood and some fluid) passes out through the vagina. This bleeding is called a period, or 'menstruation'.

There is no way of knowing when your first period will come. It will probably arrive sometime between the ages of 10 and 14 years. But it may be earlier or later. Every girl is different. If you have not begun to menstruate by the time you are 17, talk to your doctor about it. Women usually stop having their periods between the ages of 45 and 55. This is called 'menopause'.

Vaginal discharge

Vaginal fluids help the vagina to be self-cleaning, so you don’t need to wash inside the vagina (douche) and you don’t need to use perfumed sprays. It is best to avoid plastic-backed panty liners for every-day use. They don’t allow air to circulate. This can cause a hot, moist breeding ground for bacteria and may lead to infection.

During the days of your menstrual cycle when you are not bleeding, the cervix still produces secretions or discharge. This is a small amount of fluid which keeps the walls of the vagina clean and slowly leaks to the outside. This fluid usually dries to a creamy yellow colour on your underwear. You might notice differences in these secretions at different times of your cycle, the mucus will become clear in appearance in the days leading up to ovulation. Sexual excitement also produces vaginal secretions. This is normal and healthy.

Spots

In puberty your body is a hormone-producing machine. The production of new hormones also affects your sebaceous (oil-producing) glands and your sweat glands. Pimples are caused by over-activity of the sebaceous glands. These glands lie just under the skin. They produce sebum the natural oil that keeps your skin supple. During puberty, your hormones make the sebaceous glands grow bigger and produce extra sebum. This sebum is often thicker and flows more slowly, so it tends to clog the pores, causing pimples. When pimples become very inflamed, this condition is called 'acne'. Some teenagers are troubled by pimples and acne for several years. There is no single treatment to suit everybody.

Sweat

Once you have reached puberty, you may also find that you sweat more. Remember that sweating is a normal human function. The healthiest of sportspeople may lose buckets of sweat out on the sports field! By itself, sweat does not have much of a smell but bacteria which live on the skin can create a smell called 'body odour' or BO. To avoid body odour, wash your body at least once a day, especially the underarm area, using mild soap and warm water. Change and wash your clothes often, including your socks. It helps to wear loose-fitting clothing, made from natural fibres. An underarm deodorant may be useful, too. Worrying about body odour is one of the many things that people get needlessly anxious about. If you bathe and wash your clothes regularly, it is very unlikely you will have a problem.

Feelings

You might find that you feel more emotional than usual and are sensitive to what others say. Trying to find your way and fit in with others as you start to form your own identity can be tough. Take time for yourself when you can, try and lead a healthy lifestyle and most of all know that puberty is a phase we all go through.

Sources: NHS Choices, UK (Girls and puberty), WA Health (Teenage health - Girls nd puberty booklet)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013