Puberty is the term used to describe the time when your body is changing from the body of a child to the body of an adult. This process begins earlier in girls than in boys, usually between ages 8 and 13 and it lasts 2 to 4 years.
Physical changes and emotional changes are a big part of puberty. You’ll find that you develop at a different rate from your friends – so don’t worry if you’re the only girl you know who is/isn’t wearing a bra or if you’re the shortest/tallest in your class. Your development during puberty is unique and right for you.
If you want more information on puberty and the changes happening to your body, talk to a trusted adult or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 and talk to one of our professional counsellors.
Physical and emotional changes
The first signs of puberty are usually visible: an increase in height, the rounding and filling out of hips, breast development, the development of pubic hair in your genital region. There are lots of questions that you may have about things like:
If you have health-related questions, we recommend that you talk to your family doctor or another trusted adult. You can also call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.
Probably the most talked about event of puberty for girls is getting your period or menstruation.
How? The pituitary gland at the base of the brain produces chemicals known as hormones that eventually help produce the main female hormone, estrogen.
Why? A woman’s body is designed to enable her to bear children.
When? There is no way to tell when you will have your first period. Most girls will have their first period about a year after their first growth spurt – it’s likely to start when you are between 10 and 14 years old. It can begin earlier or later than that for many girls. Remember, not all girls are the same. However, it would make sense to talk to your doctor if you haven’t started your period by the time you are 16. Doctors are only concerned if periods have not started by 17 years.
What? The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped muscular organ. The two ovaries are glands that produce female sex hormones. Although they are only the size of an almond, each contains 150,000 to 200,000 ova (egg cells). From the beginning of puberty, the ovaries usually release only one ova per month.
Each month the uterus prepares for a possible pregnancy – its lining thickens into a cushion of blood vessels and tissue. But if there is no fertilized ovum (egg) to use this nourishment, it trickles away through the vagina. The total amount of blood discharge is usually equal to 30-80 ml, and is known as menstruation or a period. Once you start your period, you can expect to have them until you are about 50 years old.
About 14 days before your period, an egg is released from one of your ovaries. This process is called ovulation. All that is needed for conception to occur is for one sperm to meet an egg. It only takes one sperm out of millions that a boy produces and releases when he ejaculates to meet an egg, in order for conception to take place. It is important to know that after you start menstruating (and sometimes even before) you could become pregnant if any semen is deposited in or just outside your vagina.
How your period makes you feel
While some women do not experience any symptoms with their period, some women may experience:
Cramps (caused by your uterus contracting as it works to shed its lining)
These symptoms are called premenstrual syndrome. Exercise and cutting back on salty foods and/or caffeine can sometimes help reduce these symptoms.
Every teenager will experience a growth spurt – a period of getting taller and gaining weight.
Girls usually begin to grow taller at age 10 or 11. As a result, it’s common for girls of this age to be taller than boys the same age. People grow at different rates – don’t worry if your friends seem to be developing faster or more slowly than you are.
Acne is caused by extra activity of the tiny sebaceous glands – they grow bigger and produce extra sebum. The sebum is very thick and it flows more slowly, clogging pores and producing acne.
Some people don’t have much acne, but other people are troubled by it for several years. If you have problems with acne, make an appointment to see your doctor who can prescribe medication that can help.
Sweating is a normal, healthy and necessary process that regulates your body temperature. During puberty, the sweat glands become much more active than when you were a child and you might find that you’re sweating more than you used to. You may also notice that sweating causes new smells – this is called body odour.
The best way to deal with body odour is to shower or bathe every day (or more often if you are very physically active). You should also change socks and underwear daily and you may want to start using an underarm deodorant. Deodorant helps prevent the odours that are created by sweating.
Because your body is going through so many hormonal changes, it is quite normal for you to feel wildly happy one minute, and down in the dumps the next. It’s all part of adolescence. Talk with your girlfriends, your sisters, mother, aunts – every woman has gone through this stage in life.
Last Reviewed September 2012 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team