Adolescents often receive their facts about puberty from a variety of sources, such as friends, teachers, and the media. When faced with this storm of information, it is important for a girl to be able to turn to someone with whom she feels comfortable talking, who she can trust to provide good advice - in most cases, that person is Mom.
The transition from childhood to adulthood can be nearly as difficult for parents as it is for their teenage children. Mothers of adolescent girls may find themselves struggling to explain the extensive physical and emotional changes their daughters are going through. To help with the parent-child dialogue, here are some answers to common questions about female puberty:
What is puberty?
Puberty can be a confusing and awkward time for young women. It is the time in life when a child becomes a young adult and sexual reproduction becomes possible.
The easiest changes to identify happen externally. Most children begin to experience large growth spurts around the age of eleven. Girls may notice their waists becoming narrower while their hips grow wider. From ages seven to thirteen, female breasts begin to grow, usually resulting in some soreness. Coarse body air may spring up in the pubic area, the armpits, and other areas. You should be certain to reassure your daughter that all women go through the same changes as they grow.
Less obvious, but much more important, are the internal physical changes. Before the signs of puberty even become apparent, hormonal alterations will have been taking place for several years. The hypothalamus in the brain and the pituitary gland begin to send signals to the ovaries. The ovaries then begin to "ovulate" as they release a mature egg. This egg can either become fertilized and produce a baby, or it will disintegrate and leave the body during the menstrual period.
First menstruation, also called menarche, often occurs close to the age of thirteen. This monthly discharge of tissue and blood from the uterus through the vagina is commonly known as a "period." This is a sign of a normal, healthy reproductive system. Mothers should take care to prepare their daughters for the arrival of their period by explaining what will occur, why it happens, and how to handle it.
When will I get my first period?It is impossible to pinpoint when a girl's first period will occur as it is dependent on hormone levels and physical development. In some cases, girls as young as ten have begun their periods. To prevent embarrassing accidents, teenage girls may want to begin carrying sanitary pads to school with them, in case their period begins while they are away from home.
How long will my period last?
A typical period lasts anywhere from two to seven days. During a menstrual period, a woman's body may gradually discharge up to one-cup of blood and tissue. Over the course of a lifetime, a woman can release 400 eggs and have this many menstrual periods if the ovulations do not lead to pregnancies. Illness or pregnancy can bring a temporary halt to monthly menstrual cycles. A woman's periods will eventually stop completely as she reaches menopause around the age of 50-52.
What is "normal" menstruation like?
At first, it is "normal" for girls to notice an inconsistent vaginal discharge and an irregular period during their initial menstrual periods, but these periods will eventually become more regular, occurring every 28 days or so. Young women may want to use pantiliners to discreetly cope with any spotting that occurs in the meantime.
How do I prepare for my period?Women can track their menstrual cycles using a calendar. Mothers can show their daughters how to mark the first day of their period on the calendar each month and count the number of days until the next period is due. This way, young girls can learn to prepare for their period in advance.
Sanitary Napkins vs. Tampons During the menstrual period, girls have the option of using sanitary napkins, also known as "pads," or tampons to absorb the flow. Pads are made of a soft, absorbent material that is similar to that of a diaper. They are held into a woman's underwear by adhesive backing. In recent years, manufacturers have developed thinner, less conspicuous sanitary pads in an attempt to save women from the embarrassment and hassle of lugging larger pads with them and to make them less conspicuous when they are worn.
Tampons are inserted directly into the vagina. Much like an absorbent sponge, a tampon will gently swell as it becomes soaked with blood. A string allows for easy removal from the body. Tampons are convenient for swimming or exercising and can be paired with a pantiliner, a type of thin pad, for extra protection. When using tampons, women should change them every 4-6 hours to minimize the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a rare, but potentially life threatening reaction to a certain bacterial infection of the vagina,
Will my period hurt?
It is not uncommon to experience some discomfort during menstruation. The blood flow does not hurt, but women may develop cramps as their uterus contracts. There is some pain from period cramps, but it is not unmanageable. These abdominal cramps vary in intensity and are different for each woman. Some women experience cramping with every period while others never feel anything. It is easy to purchase over-the-counter pain relievers that can help combat this nuisance. For severe period cramps, a doctor's consultation may be needed.
What is PMS?
PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, refers to a set of symptoms that many women experience around the time of their menstrual period. Common effects of PMS include: bloating, cramps, fatigue, moodiness, headaches, or pimples. Again, there are over-the-counter medications that can ease these symptoms. To find relief while experiencing PMS, women should try wearing loose clothing or placing warm compresses on their stomach. Mothers can share with their daughters their own tricks for coping.
During puberty, many parents will notice a natural tendency in their daughters to seek greater independence but, no matter how much they protest, young women need more support and guidance than ever. Adolescent girls do benefit from having someone they can turn to for support and answers to their questions, especially when it comes to a girl's first period. By making yourself available to your daughter as a source of emotional and intellectual support, the transition into adulthood will be that much easier on both of you.