Girls and Puberty: The Changes We Don’t Talk About Enough
Originally Published: November 28, 2018
Revised: February 4, 2019
What’s happening to me?! Many teens find themselves asking this throughout puberty. Changes in our bodies can be confusing and sometimes even a little scary. It’s important to understand which changes are normal, but it’s hard to know what’s normal when a lot of the details about how our bodies work and change aren’t talked about that often. In health class, some people may have learned some basics about menstrual periods and developing breasts but not much more than that. Below I address some of the changes we girls—or those who were assigned female at birth—go through so that we have a better understanding of our bodies—and know that we are not alone!
Getting familiar with your body is key to being able to spot changes.
Your Period Doesn’t Have to Be a Pain
Most people know that periods exist, but not everyone knows that getting your period can have all types of effects on your body. “In my school, they never really talked to us about what happens during puberty and what we should expect,” says Erin, 18, of Southington, CT. “I knew I was going to get my period, but that was it.”
While some people may have symptoms like back pain, nausea or menstrual cramps, if any of these become extreme, it may be time to seek help. “When I started to have a lot of problems with my period, I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal,” says Erin. “I had extremely heavy bleeding and unbearable cramps, but I thought that was normal.” It’s hard to know what’s normal when you first start your period. But if your menstrual flow or cramps interrupt your daily life, speak with your health care provider.
Developing Breast Buds
Between the ages of eight and 13, girls begin to develop breasts. In the early stages, you might feel a firm lump under your nipple. This is called a breast bud, indicating the start of breast development. This can happen in both breasts or one at a time and is nothing to worry about.
As your breasts develop, you might also experience some discomfort. “I remember in seventh grade, I started experiencing breast tenderness/pain, and I was scared,” says Gianna, 15, of Lindenwold, NJ. “I didn’t know what was going on, because they never discussed this in health class. I remember going home that night and researching reasons for breast pain, thinking I had breast cancer because it runs in my family.” The chances of breast cancer at such a young age are very slim, but it’s easy to be frightened when you don’t know what to expect!
“I remember having a lot of shooting and sharp pains in my breasts while I was growing up, probably middle school ‘til my sophomore year of high school,” says Taylor, 19 of Washington, D.C. “It was scary because no one ever talked about breasts and the pain and changes.”
Your nipples or your whole breast may be sore or tender. This is all part of the process. While breast tenderness is totally normal, if you ever have a concern, do not be afraid to talk to your parent or guardian or doctor. Getting familiar with your body is key to being able to spot changes.
Vaginal Discharge Happens
Vaginal discharge is not often talked about in health class—or anywhere for that matter—but it’s normal. “Some of the first experiences I had with discharge were scary because I thought there was something wrong with me,” says Ruby, 19, of East Brunswick, NJ. “It took me so long to realize that it’s normal and happens to everyone. I think it’s crazy that we don’t talk about discharge at all…. It happens even more frequently than your period, and yet we still don’t talk about it.”
It’s true! Vaginal discharge is normal. So what is it exactly? It’s a fluid that comes out of the vaginal opening that lubricates and cleans the vagina. It can change in consistency from thin to thick and in color from clear to milky white. These changes often depend on where you are in your menstrual cycle. For some girls, it increases a noticeable amount during ovulation. If the color, smell or texture varies significantly, or if you experience irritation, speak with a parent, guardian or health care provider.
Puberty brings a lot of changes that can be confusing but are totally normal. If we talked more about them, we would all be a lot less shy about asking questions and a lot less confused and concerned!
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