In girls, puberty begins anytime between 8 and 13 years of age. Breast changes and the appearance of pubic and underarm hair are usually the first signs of puberty.
The pre-adolescent breast is flat with a simple nipple. Oestrogen stimulates breast tissue to develop, making it swell. The nipple and areola become more prominent. Quite often, one breast grows faster than the other.
Developing breasts are sometimes painful - reassure your daughter that this is normal. Breasts are made up of glandular and fatty tissue and fibrous sinewy connective tissue which can sometimes makes them lumpy or feel “grainy”. Fibrous lumps like small slippery marbles can appear, but these are harmless.
Your daughter's first bra
Taking your daughter to buy her first bra is something of a milestone, and there are pretty and comfortable ranges designed for young girls. A well-fitting bra fits snugly and feels comfortable, leaving no marks or chafing. Breasts should be supported by the whole bra, not just the straps, and should not bulge.
About two years after the first sign of breast budding, periods usually begin. On average, girls start their periods between 12 and 13 years, although many are starting as young as 10 or 11.
Girls today are, on average, menstruating nine months earlier than their mothers did – some even as young as 8. Explain menstruation simply and carefully to your daughter so that she understands that having a period is her body’s way of telling her that everything is working the way it should be.
Try and give her the facts before her first period arrives.
Respect her apprehensiveness. Tell her how you felt when you were her age and how you feel about having periods today.
Describe typical warning signs: discomfort in the pelvic area, a feeling of wetness in her panties, sometimes with a brown mucus ‘show’.
Build-up her confidence by explaining how easy pads and tampons are to use. Give her practical advice – where to keep them, how often to change them, how to dispose of them, how to cope with changes during the school day, and so on.
Mood swings can leave young girls confused and frustrated. Encourage her to calm down in her own way and learn to deal with exaggerated irritability.
Explain that before a period starts, hormone levels are low to trigger menstruation and that this sometimes results in frustration, sadness and a very short fuse.
Good time management, eating properly, getting enough sleep, talking about what’s on her mind and keeping up with school work will all help her cope.
Period pain can be minimized by keeping warm (sitting in the sun, using a hot water bottle or taking a hot bath or shower). Pain-killers such as paracetamol reduce pain by suppressing prostaglandins.
They work best when taken before the pain becomes unbearable. It also helps to keep the bladder empty and to eat well (minerals help womb muscles cope with contractions).
It’s normal for periods to be irregular for the first two years. Emotional upheavals, diet and lifestyle can also alter the cycle.
If periods continue to be extremely irregular, infrequent and scanty or if periods have not started despite obvious signs of maturation, seek medical advice.
Life Orientation class as school
The Life Orientation curriculum includes teaching school girls about sexuality and menstruation. Ask about when and how this will be given so that you know what your daughter is learning at school.
Emotional and physical changes
The changes she will experience are emotional as well as physical, and this can be hard on her and on you. Your daughter may be suddenly shy and secretive and prefer the company of her best friend.
Breasts may be hidden under layers of clothing. She might scribble in her diary, recording her life miseries, and become intolerant of siblings and parents, and regard family gatherings with distain.
You may be asking yourself: how am I going to survive my daughter’s growing up? We all want to spare our daughters the mistakes we made and yet we must nurture independence, confidence, wisdom and good decision-making.
There is something special about a mother-daughter relationship that has to survive the storms of adolescence, rebellion and self-centeredness.
Sometimes the calm only prevails when the daughter herself becomes a mother. Always, there’s a unique bond that connects mother and daughter. Discover it and treasure it.