Puberty is a series of changes in your body when you grow from a girl into a woman. Your body is getting ready to be an adult and one day, when you are ready, to have children. For girls, this usually means getting breasts, widening hips, and periods. But, it involves other physical changes as well.
When puberty starts, your brain releases hormones called luteinizing hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH). FSH and LH tell your ovaries that it is time to start maturing into an adult body. This means that your body will start producing eggs and estrogen that your body will need to have a baby someday.
You may be thinking, "Wait, I don't want a baby!" Even though you are not ready to have a baby now, it takes a long time for your body to become an adult body. So, it is important for your body to start getting ready now.
Your body will start to go through many changes about now. Changes start between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls. If you know when it started for your mom, it will probably start around the same time for you. The first change that happens is usually breast development and growth of hair around your labia. Breast development starts with the growth of breast buds, which are small, firm, tender lumps under your nipples. If you feel tender or your breasts hurt, don't worry. It is normal. You will also start to grow coarse, dark hair around the opening to your vagina. Soon, you may also start to grow hair under your armpits. One or two years after you start to develop breasts, you will experience a growth spurt. Your hips, thighs, and breasts will start to change very quickly and you will get taller. You may find that none of your clothes fit. You may also need to start wearing a bra.
Around the same time or a while later, you will also experience your first period, also called menstruation. Menstruation happens because hormones from your brain tell your ovaries to release an egg. You can read on the main puberty page how your body will release an egg and that egg gets fertilized to make a baby. If the egg is not fertilized, your uterus will shed its lining of blood and tissue. This is your period. A period happens approximately once every 21 to 45 days and it lasts between 3 and 7 days each time. At first, your period may happen every couple of weeks or suddenly take many weeks to show up. This is normal and, as you get older, your periods will become more regular. Until then, keep track of your periods and note the day they start and end on the calendar. If your periods are coming more often than every 21 days, take longer than 45 days to show up, or last longer than 7 days, you may want to talk to your doctor. They can help you regulate your periods to make sure you stay healthy.
You might be thinking that this period business sounds pretty messy and it definitely can be. When your period comes, you will not bleed a lot. It will trickle out of your vagina a little bit at a time. Then you will bleed about 1-2 tablespoons over the next few days and if you don't take care of it, it will get on your clothes, pajamas, and sheets. Periods can be pretty smelly, too, so it is important to practice good hygiene. The first thing you want is a pair of cotton panties that will make sure you are comfortable during your period. Second, you want to pick the type of sanitary product you want to use. Pads are the best to start with because they are easy to use. They have a sticky back and you stick them to the inside of your underwear. Panty liners are a lot like pads, but you use them when you are lightly bleeding. As you get older, you can use other products like tampons. But, when you are still young, they may hurt to use them so it is best to wait until you are a little older.
You may also feel pretty uncomfortable during your period. You may get cramps. Cramps are caused by contractions of your uterus and can feel aching in your back, thighs, and lower abdomen. This is perfectly normal and can be relieved by using a heating pad on the part of your body where you feel cramps or by taking medication. Do not worry if you do not get cramps. Your body is unique and your periods may be different from your mother, sisters, cousins or friends. If you are getting cramps after your period is over, your cramps are keeping you from being able to go to school or do your usual activities, or you feel that something may not be right, talk to your doctor.
You may also feel bloated and feel a little sad, unsettled, unhappy, cranky or even angry during or right before your period. This is called Premenstrual Syndrome, also called PMS, and is perfectly normal. Getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthful diet and exercising can help with these feelings. However, if you are feeling really bad, or you feel that something is not right, or you are worried you might be depressed or have anxiety, talk to your parent and doctor.
Becoming an adult is more than just getting your period. Click here to learn more about how to take care of yourself now that you're becoming an adult.
You may be feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you do not know where to get sanitary products or you are concerned that your periods are going to be painful and scary. It is important that you find an adult you trust to talk to about what you are going through. This can be your mom, dad, grandmother, aunt, older cousin or sister, teacher, coach, pastor, or school counselor. If you trust them and you feel comfortable talking to them about your periods, ask for their help and advice. Be sure to tell your parent or guardian that you are having periods because you may need to see the doctor so they can check that everything is developing the way it should. And remember, what you are experiencing is normal and everyone must go through this change to become an adult.