Guiding your tween through puberty and periods - everything you need to know
Whether you remember it vividly or not, I think it's safe to say that none of us have particularly fond memories of puberty.
Hands up who remembers the über excitement of buying your first bra (32AA bless!), or the page-turning wonder of the Girl's Talk book?
Although puberty can mark a happy entry to being more 'grown-up', it can also be a challenging and unsettling time. So, how can you help your tween to navigate a fast-changing body, and a whole host of new (and complex) emotions?
HerFamily spoke to Anna Druet, Research Scientist at menstrual tracking app Clue about how best to steer your tween or teen through this pivotal point in her life.
When will puberty begin?
Most people begin puberty between the ages of 8-13, and the whole process usually lasts between 2-5 years. As a young girl’s hormones change, her body will become more ‘adult’ to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy.
Breast development - Changes to the breasts and nipples will be the first thing they are likely to notice. The small bumps on the nipples become raised and the darker area of the nipple may begin to grow as the breast/nipple area starts to puff out. These are called breast buds, and it is totally normal for this to happen on just one side at first before the other side catches up.
Pubic hair - Quite soon after her breast buds appear, she may notice the development of pubic hair. It’s estimated 9 in 10 people experience things in this order. Underarm hair often doesn’t begin to grow until around the time of menstruation, or after it begins.
Body shape - During puberty, her height, fat distribution and body shape will change quickly. It’s normal for her clothes size to go up as her hips widen and her pelvis gets bigger. Assure her that this is normal.
Vaginal/cervical fluid - About 6-12 months before the first period she may notice more fluid in her vagina and on her underwear. In the weeks before the first period, she may notice her fluid changing, becoming more milky for a few days, or stretchy like an egg white. This is a good time to explain what cervical fluid is, and the fluid changes she’ll eventually notice during every cycle.
When will menstruation begin?
Most girls start menstruating between the ages of 9-15. Waiting for a first period can be stressful time for a girl, and it can be difficult for her to know exactly when her period will start. The age menstruation begins differs from person to person, but girls sometimes begin menstruating at around the same age as their biological mother (although this is not always the case), so if you or your partner remember at what age you started menstruating, it would be a good idea to have a chat with them about what to expect before they reach this age.
Which feminine hygiene products are the most suitable?
There are so many period products available these days that it can be difficult to know which is the best for your tween or teen. Pads are often the simplest product to use when she is just getting used to her cycle, menstrual cups are great in that they can be used for both very light and heavy flows, but they can take some getting used to. Once she is more comfortable with her cycle and her flow is more consistent (and she can gauge if her flow is typically light or heavy), you can also introduce her to tampons, and allow her to decide which she feels most comfortable using
The first years few years of menstruation
It’s important to explain to a girl the difference between what patterns are normal and what they should talk to their doctor about. This is why it’s important for a girl to start tracking their cycles early on (it can also be fun). It’s common for cycles to be somewhat irregular for about two years after the first period. After a couple of years, cycles should become more regular, but may still continue to vary. Most cycles settle into a regular rhythm about six years after periods begin.
Explaining irregular periods
It may be worrying to a young girl if her period is irregular, particularly if her friends are experiencing consistent 28-day cycles, but reassure her that this is perfectly normal as her reproductive hormones are still coming into balance. In the years after she starts menstruating, hormones are not yet regular enough to cause ovulation to happen each cycle. Ovulation only happens in about 2 in 10 cycles during the first year of having a period. By the sixth year, ovulation happens in about 9 in 10 cycles. When ovulation doesn’t occur, the period may come at a different time. It can look and feel differently too, and the cycle symptoms will probably be different.
When to seek medical advice
Everyone’s body is different, and cycles will vary, but it might be worth taking your daughter to a nurse or doctor if she experiences any of the following:
- Cycles that consistently fall outside of the range of 21-45 days
- Periods that become very irregular after having regular cycles for at least 6 months
- No period for more than 90 days
- No first period by the age of 15
- Intense pain/cramps, or pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter medication
Encourage her to talk openly about her period
There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to talking about periods so encourage your daughter to openly discuss anything that might be concerning her.
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