Problems and Solution for Girls

Physical Development in Girls: What to Expect

Breast Development (Thelarche)

The first visible evidence of puberty in girls is a nickel-sized lump under one or both nipples. Breast buds, as these are called, typically occur around age nine or ten, although they may occur much earlier, or somewhat later. In a study of seventeen thousand girls, it was concluded that girls do not need to be evaluated for precocious puberty unless they are Caucasian girls showing breast development before age seven or African American girls with breast development before age six. It is not known why, but in the United States, African American girls generally enter puberty a year before Caucasian girls; they also have nearly a year’s head start when it comes to menstruation. No similar pattern has been found among boys.
Regardless of a girl’s age, her parents are often unprepared for the emergence of breast buds, and may be particularly concerned because at the onset of puberty, one breast often appears before the other. According to Dr. Suzanne Boulter, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist in Concord, New Hampshire, “many mistake them for a cyst, a tumor or an abscess.” The girl herself may worry that something is wrong, especially since the knob of tissue can feel tender and sore, and make it uncomfortable for her to sleep on her stomach. Parents should stress that these unfamiliar sensations are normal.
What appear to be burgeoning breasts in heavyset prepubescent girls are often nothing more than deposits of fatty tissue. True breast buds are firm to the touch.
Q: “My daughter just started developing breasts. Should she be wearing a training bra?”
A: There’s no need for one right now, as long as she’s comfortable. But given the sensitivity of early breast tissue, some girls find it more comfortable to wear a soft, gently supportive undergarment like an undershirt or sports bra. Let her decide. Girls’ feelings about their first bra are decidedly mixed. Some are thrilled to take this early step toward womanhood, but others are mortified by the thought of wearing a bra to school.
Q: “Why is one of my breasts bigger than the other?”
A: In the early stages of puberty, it is not unusual for one breast to be noticeably larger than the other. Young girls aren’t always told this, however, leading many to worry that they’re going to be “lopsided” forever. Breast size usually evens out within a year or so, although most adult women’s breasts are slightly different in size. Unless the difference is significant, padding the bra cup for the smaller side is frequently considered a satisfactory solution. However, sometimes the difference in size is very pronounced. This condition, asymmetrical breasts, is more common than you might think. The situation occasionally resolves itself, but if not, some young women may want to pursue plastic surgery. However, any such operation should be delayed until at least six to twelve months after breast growth has stopped, usually a minimum of one year following the first menstrual period. The standard approach among physicians is to see young patients every six months for several years, then assess whether the option of surgery should be offered.

Pubic Hair (Pubarche)

For most girls, the second sign of puberty is the appearance of pubic hair in the pubic area. (About 10 to 15 percent will develop pubic hair before the breasts begin to bud.) At first the hair is sparse, straight and soft, but as it fills in it becomes darker, curlier and coarser. Over the next few years, the pubic hair grows up the lower abdomen, eventually taking on a triangular shape; finally it spreads to the inner thighs. About two years after the onset of pubarche, hair begins to grow under the arms as well.

Changing Body Shape

Preadolescent females acquire what, in common language, is often called “baby fat,” which may give them a more rounded belly; this development may cause considerable anxiety for these girls. That’s hardly surprising in light of our culture’s conditioning women, even from an early age, to aspire to thinness. The weight gain of puberty comes at a time when a girl may be comparing herself to the malnourished supermodels she sees worshiped in fashion advertisements or to their plasticized counterpart, the unrealistically proportioned Barbie doll.
These young female patients, and their parents, often worry that baby fat is a harbinger of impending obesity—usually the deposition of adipose tissue (connective tissue where fat is stored) around the middle is part of normal development. The body will soon redistribute the fat from the stomach and the waist to the breasts and the hips in order to mold a womanly figure. However, excessive abdominal fat, often characterized by a “D” shape, should be addressed, since obesity predisposes youngsters to diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious health concerns.

Menstruation (Menses/Menarche)

Girls often have many misconceptions and unfounded fears about menstruation. The time to begin discussing this subject with your daughter is when the breasts start to develop, heralding the arrival of puberty. Typically, one and a half to three years pass before the first menstrual period, or menarche.
Here’s how a mother or father might go about explaining the concepts of ovulation and menstruation to a twelve-year-old. It’s helpful to have on hand a book or pamphlet that includes an illustration of the female reproductive system.
“When you’re older, you’ll be able to become a mother, if you decide to. Even though that’s a long time from now, your body is already getting itself ready for the day when you choose to have a baby.
“Now that you’ve entered puberty, each month one of your two ovaries will release a ripened egg inside you. A woman becomes pregnant when a man’s sperm unites with the egg. If fertilization takes place, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the inner lining of the uterus, which is also called the womb. This is where the baby lives while it’s growing and waiting to be born. The uterus prepares for this possibility by forming a thick layer of tissue and importing extra blood, just in case.
“Most months, though, the egg doesn’t meet a sperm. Since the body won’t be needing the extra tissue and blood, it discharges the red fluid out your vagina. This is called your menstrual period, and it will happen every three to five weeks or so. During the three to seven days that you’re having your period, and for a few days afterward, you need to wear a special absorbent pad in your panties. Or you can use something called a tampon, which is made of soft cotton and goes inside your vagina.
“Menstruation is normal and healthy. It means that you are growing up. It doesn’t stop you from doing the things you want to do, like swimming or playing sports. In time, you will begin to ovulate and be capable of getting pregnant.”

Teenagers’ Common Concerns

Q: “How will I know when I’m going to get my first period?”
A: Although there’s no way to pinpoint the day, most girls reach menarche at about the same age as their mothers and older sisters did. Prepare your daughter in advance. Buy her a box of sanitary pads and show her how to wear them.
Explain that her menstruation may be highly irregular at first, with as many as six months passing between periods. Even once a girl becomes regular, any of a number of conditions can cause her to miss a cycle: sickness, stress, excessive exercise, poor nutrition and, of course, pregnancy.
If your daughter has not menstruated by age 16 or 17, or is more than a year older than her mother was at the time of menarche, consult your pediatrician. Although everything is probably normal, it’s wise to rule out any medical problems.
Q: “What if I get my period while I’m at school and have an accident?”
A: This is probably every girl’s greatest fear. Have your daughter keep a few sanitary pads in her book bag or knapsack at all times, in case of an emergency. Explain that the initial bleeding during a period is usually light, and that she should be able to get to the girls’ room or the nurse’s office in time.
Q: “Should I use sanitary pads or tampons?”
A: “I usually suggest that girls start out with pads for the first month or so, until they get used to having their period and seeing how heavy the flow is,” Dr. Felice explains. “It depends upon when a girl is ready and how comfortable she is with her body.” Some girls prefer tampons because they do not like the feeling of wetness or the odor that pads may emit. Other girls may be squeamish about inserting a tampon in their vagina and opt for pads. Buy your daughter some of each type and in absorbencies ranging from light to heavy so she can experiment to find what works best for her.
Q: “Does it hurt to have your period?”
A: The first several periods are almost always painless. Once a girl begins to ovulate, she may experience some discomfort before, during or after her period. Common symptoms include cramping, bloating, sore or swollen breasts, headaches, mood changes and irritability, and depression. Menstrual cramps, probably the most bothersome effect, can range from mild to moderate to severe. If your daughter complains of pain in the lower abdomen or back, talk to her pediatrician, who may recommend exercises and an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen.

When To Call The Doctor

Contact your daughter’s pediatrician if she experiences any of the following symptoms, or if there is any concern that there might be a problem:
  • A sudden, unexplained change in her periods;
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding that soaks more than six to eight pads or tampons per day for more than seven to ten days;
  • Persistent bleeding between periods;

Girls, see if this sounds familiar. You look in a mirror one morning and notice you're taller -- and rounder. Through your nightgown, you see your breasts are bigger. You don't remember looking like that a few weeks ago! Over the next few weeks, you start noticing hair in places you've never had hair before. You've heard girls at school talk about getting their periods, and you wonder if that will happen to you soon. You feel ultraconfident, and then super sensitive -- all in the same day. What in the world is going on? Welcome to puberty.
Technically speaking, puberty is nature's way of transforming a child into an adult, all for the sake of reproduction. While both girls and boys go through puberty, girls reach puberty and sexual maturity at earlier ages than boys do.
So what's causing all of these changes? Hormones! Actually, the female hormone estrogen is the main one that's triggering all the changes in your body. Let's look at some of the changes girls can expect at puberty.

Increase in Height and Weight

Starting at around age 9, girls begin to gain about 17% to 18% of their adult height. If someone has commented that you are "all hands and feet," it's true! Your limbs grow first, then your trunk. Most girls grow fastest about six months before they start their first period (menarche).
You'll probably gain weight in puberty -- most girls do. You may notice more body fat along the upper arms, thighs, and upper back. Your hips will grow rounder and wider; your waist will become narrower.
Your doctor will check your height and weight each year to make sure you are growing properly. If you are gaining weight too fast, you may need to increase your exercise and substitute fruits and vegetables for junk foods.

Puberty Breast Development

Breast development is an early sign of puberty in girls. This can happen before age 9 in some girls, but later in others.
If you are self-conscious, you might want to start wearing a "training bra," which is a soft bra with no real support. 
Talk to your mom, older sister, or an aunt about buying a training bra. They can help you to make sure you get one that is comfortable and that lets you feel confident in your clothes.

Girls and Puberty

Increase in Hair

While for most girls, breast development is the first sign of puberty, others might first notice pubic hair. An increase in hair on your arms and legs, in your armpits, and around your pubic area happens to girls early in puberty.
If you want to shave your legs and underarms, ask your mom or another woman you trust about selecting the safest razor. Someone who is experienced in shaving needs to show you how to shave safely; using a gentle shaving cream, water, and a razor.
Keep in mind that not all women shave their body hair. In some cultures, it is acceptable to leave the armpits and legs unshaven. You have to decide what is best for you and your family's customs.

Your First Menstrual Period

Soon after they develop breasts, most girls have their first menstrual period. This usually happens between ages 12 and 13, but menstruation can start earlier or later. During a menstrual period, there are two to three days of heavier bleeding with two to four days of lighter flow.
Menstruation happens to all girls, so try not to be embarrassed in learning more about it. Talk to your mom or an adult you trust about having your period.
During your period, you'll need to wear a sanitary pad or tampon. Your mom (or other adult) can purchase these products and show you how to use them. Be sure to keep extra pads or tampons in your school locker in case your period starts suddenly during the school day. If you forget, ask to see a school nurse or ask a female teacher for help.

Cramps and Your Period

Cramps are caused by the increased production of hormones during your period. This causes the muscles of the uterus to contract. You might also notice:

Cramps and Your Period

Cramps are caused by the increased production of hormones during your period. This causes the muscles of the uterus to contract. You might also notice:
  • Aching in your upper thighs
  • Back pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
Medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help ease period pain. Putting a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen may also help. If your cramping is severe, talk to your health care provider.

Girls and Puberty

Girls and Mood Swings

Because of the surges in hormones during puberty, many girls feel moodiness at times, especially right before their periods. This is called premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS may cause:
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fluid retention
  • Anxiety
  • Dietary cravings
 Once your period starts, the PMS symptoms usually disappear. It's helpful to exercise during PMS and your period in order to boost your mood and help you feel your best. If your mood is lower than normal, talk to your health care provider about your feelings.
Some girls have a decrease in self-esteem and body satisfaction if they hit puberty earlier than their friends. Other girls feel different if they enter puberty later than their friends do. That's why it's important to understand what's happening to your body, and realize that every girl goes through the same changes -- some sooner, some later. But if you have not gone through puberty by age 14, including menstruating, you should see your health care provider.
 It's important to eat a balanced diet, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, and stay at a healthy weight during this time. Continue to see your primary health care provider for regular checkups, so you can feel your best and have someone knowledgeable to go to with your questions or coincerns.

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