Understanding puberty

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Puberty. For some parents of pre-teen girls, that word makes them cringe. Other parents want to put their daughters on 24-hour surveillance and lockdown, keeping them in the house until they are 35 years old. And some just want to pretend the word doesn't exist.

"Puberty is the natural way children grow into adults," explained Elise Berlan, MD, who specializes in Adolescent Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Boys and girls both go through puberty, although girls typically reach puberty and sexual maturity earlier than boys."

However, all children experience these changes at different rates. Some girls may experience these changes over a number of years, and some may experience these changes very quickly.

Starting around age 8, girls may notice they are growing taller and gaining weight, at a different rate than before. During this time, girls will gain about 17- to 18 percent of their adult height. During puberty, girls can expect to grow anywhere between 2 and 10 inches, and gain between 15 and 55 pounds.

An early sign of puberty is breast development in girls. This will start as "budding," which is where small, tender lumps are formed under the nipple. This is the time when girls should start wearing training bras.

The next sign of puberty is hair growth. This can occur in the pubic area, as well as on her arms, legs and armpits. Shaving is a personal choice, and should be discussed with your daughter to determine how she feels about it.

Soon after breasts develop, most girls have their first period. This usually happens between ages 12 and 13, but menstruation can start earlier or later. This signifies when girls are able to get pregnant because the body releases an egg from the ovary. During a menstrual period, there are 2-3 days of heavier bleeding with 2-4 days of lighter flow.

Along with her period, girls can experience cramps caused by the increased production of hormones. In addition to cramping, girls may feel aching in the upper thighs, back pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and fatigue.

Another change that happens during puberty is that skin gets oiler and girls may begin to sweat more. This is because her glands are growing, too. This is when most people start to use a deodorant or antiperspirant to keep odor and wetness under control. Girls are encouraged to wash their faces every day in order to keep acne from developing.

As girls go through puberty, they will get taller, their hips will get wider, and their waists will get smaller. The body will naturally begin to build up fat in the belly, buttocks and legs. This is normal, and gives girls the "curvier" figure of a woman.

Puberty may sound scary, but it is a wonderful time for girls to develop into young women.

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