As your daughter enters adolescence, she will begin to gain weight, her breasts will develop, she will grow pubic and body hair and she will begin to menstruate. This is an exciting and even frightening time for you both. By talking with your daughter about what she can expect — perhaps even sharing some of your own experiences — you can help her prepare for these changes and possibly ease her fears.
WHAT TO EXPECT
When a girl gets her “period” depends on her family background and when she begins to show the physical signs of puberty. There is no “right” age to begin; it will happen when the body is ready. Most girls start their periods between ages 9 and 16. Usually, a girl will begin to menstruate about two years after her breasts develop, a year after the first signs of pubic hair and six months after the growth of other body hair.
The monthly cycle is triggered by hormones, mainly estrogen and progesterone. It’s called a monthly cycle because it is a process that takes about a month. Each female will have a unique cycle. Some will have periods every 22 days and some may have periods every 34 days and be considered normal. A few days fluctuation between cycles is normal.
Irregular periods — even skipped months — are normal for up to the first two years. Blood flow may vary monthly in amount and duration. Once the body has adjusted, periods last about two to 10 days and occur once every three to six weeks. Life changes — especially excitement, stress, illness, sudden weight changes and diet — can alter the cycle. To check whether a period is regular, count from the first day of a period to the first day of the next period for three to six months.
A few months before the first period, a girl may notice a clear, milky white discharge from her vagina. This is a signal that menstruation is about to begin. When her first period arrives, she may notice just a small trickle of blood. It’s actually a mixture of blood, mucus and uterine lining. The first period may be very light and brownish in color.
Periods affect both the body and mind. There is a wide range of hormonal changes, including cramps, tender breasts, bloating and weight gain, facial blemishes, food cravings, emotional mood swings and tiredness. These symptoms are most noticeable in the two weeks just before the period begins.
Your daughter can counteract some of these symptoms with exercise, a good diet, adequate sleep and by cutting down on salt and caffeine in her diet. Consult your doctor or nurse practitioner if these symptoms become too bothersome or if you or your daughter has questions.
Choosing the right feminine products can be confusing. First, there is the choice of pads or tampons. Both pads and tampons are acceptable for young girls to use, and many use both.
Tampon use has been linked to toxic shock syndrome — a rare, but sometimes fatal infection — but tampons can be as safe and easy as pads. Just be sure to choose cotton tampons, use the smallest size tampon possible and change them frequently.
Symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include a sudden, high fever; vomiting; diarrhea; fainting or dizziness; and/or a sunburn-like rash. Information about toxic shock is included in tampon boxes. If you have other questions, talk to your doctor.
Many girls worry that their first period will begin at school, during an athletic event or otherwise away from home. Help your daughter plan for her first period, no matter where it begins. Buy pads or tampons in discreet packaging she can keep in her purse or locker. A change of panties also may be in order. Once menstruation begins, remind your daughter to keep supplies at school and/or in her purse in case she starts her period away from home.
Douching is never advised for any woman and the first Pap is recommended at age 21, no matter when a woman becomes sexually active.
Outwardly, the most obvious sign of your daughter’s maturation is the development of her breasts. Some girls may become quite self-conscious about this change (especially if they’re being teased about it). Well-fitted bras may help her feel more comfortable, both physically and emotionally. Bras can protect breast tissue and keep the breast supported, especially when playing sports. There are many brands and types of sports bras on the market. Your daughter should choose one that is comfortable and supportive. It shouldn’t be so tight that it binds the breasts.
Although teens seem to know everything, they often get a lot of misinformation from their peers. Make sure your daughter understands that it’s normal for her breasts to be tender before her period (it’s not necessarily a sign of pregnancy); that while weight gain may increase breast size, sexual intercourse does not; and that inverted nipples do not require surgery.
WHEN TO CALL YOUR HEALTH PROVIDER
Unless your daughter has problems with menstruation, she won’t need to see a gynecologist or other specialist in women’s health care until she is about 21 years old.
However, your daughter should see a doctor if she:
(8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)
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