Puberty in Girls: Beyond the Stages

Should I Be Worried About These Signs of Puberty?

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Puberty is a time of rapid physical development, during which your teen's body becomes able to reproduce. For both boys and girls, there are somewhat predictable patterns of development. For young women, though, both the timing and the outward appearance of puberty can vary. This means that parents and girls may feel confused about some of these common issues. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about puberty for girls.

Questions About Puberty and Body Hair

Help! My 7-year-old has dark leg hair and underarm hair! Is she hitting puberty early?

Maybe, maybe not. If your teen has dark hair, it might just be that the hair is starting to get even darker. African-American, Hispanic, and Indian girls, as well as girls from certain European ethnic backgrounds, can sometimes have dark underarm or leg hair without going through puberty.

If your child has dark leg and underarm hair and pubic hair or breast development, however, that may be a different story. Any female with pubic hair or breast development before the age of 8 may have precocious puberty or puberty that is happening too early. If you are afraid that your daughter is going into puberty too early, contact your pediatrician or family care provider for an appointment to discuss your concerns.

My teen is getting body hair, even pubic hair, but no breast development yet. Is this normal?

It can be. 15% of girls develop pubic hair before breast development. This is probably normal and not a cause for concern. If breasts don't start to develop in the next six months to a year, consult your pediatrician.

Questions About Breasts and the Menstrual Cycle

My 8-year-old has what looks like breasts. Isn't this too early?

If your child is overweight, it may look like she is developing breasts. The breasts may not be made up of real breast tissue yet, but of adipose tissue (fat). Nevertheless, if what looks like breasts begin to develop anytime from birth to the age of 7 or 8, contact your pediatrician. This can sometimes be a benign condition, but early breasts can also indicate a significant problem. Only a healthcare provider can tell you for sure.

How does a girl's physical development relate to her period?

Once a girl starts to develop breast “buds” (the earliest breast tissue that appears under the nipple), you can start expecting a girl's period to begin. Menstruation usually begins two to two and a half years after the appearance of breasts.

All of my teen's friends have gotten their periods but her. Is there something wrong?

If your teen is 15 or younger and has other signs of puberty (such as breast development and pubic hair), then she just may be a “late bloomer.” If she doesn't have the outward signs of puberty, and she is older than 15, it's important to ask the help of your pediatrician.

Your teen will need blood work and other lab tests to make sure that she is developing on schedule.

Puberty is both an exciting and frightening time for teens and parents alike. So many things are changing so quickly, so don't be frustrated if it is confusing! For the vast majority of teen girls, puberty happens exactly as it is supposed to happen. If you or your teen ever feel as if something isn't right, ask your family healthcare provider.

Sources:

Behrman, RE, Kliegman, RM, and Jenson, HB. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 2004.

Neinstein, LS. Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide, 2002.

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