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Nothing is more beautiful (and terrifying) as watching your little girl grow into a woman.

For girls, this happens much earlier than boys. Although both sexes undergo changes, they do differ. Girls can begin puberty as young as 8 and reach sexual maturity by 15 years old.

Understanding the physical, emotional and sexual changes your daughter will undergo is important for both father and mother. Having this information will help you cultivate a positive perspective on sexual health and body image — all leading to a healthy adulthood.

Stages of Puberty

Body changes

Starting as early as 8 year of age, you may notice your daughter's feet and hands grew overnight followed by a jump in height. It's very likely she will be significantly taller than her male peers.

Redistribution of fat

Your teenage girl's body will slowly change from lanky to more curvy. Fat will begin to appear on her hips, thighs and buttocks.

Sweating

This can sometimes be the first sign of puberty in girls. Sweat glands actually increase in size and sweating becomes more pronounced. This is a good time to start talking to your daughter about hygiene and use of antiperspirants/deodorants.

Genital development/discharge

Prior to their first menstruation, girls may notice yellowish or whitish discharge from the vagina. This may appear as stains in their underwear. This is a normal occurrence and usually begins after breast buds form. Discharge may irritate the surrounding vaginal tissue but usually subsides with the appearance of pubic hair.

Skin changes

Like with boys, a girl's skin can produce more oil during puberty. Routine skin cleansing can minimize outbreaks. For acne or recurring outbreaks, I would recommend visiting with your physician or dermatologist.

Emotional changes

The hormones that initiate puberty are powerful. Along with a girl's outward appearance changing drastically, her internal systems are shifting too. Hormones can impact just about every aspect of your daughter's life and can cause, what might seem, emotional outbursts that may seem irrational or extreme. These outbursts will subside as your daughter reaches the end stages of puberty. It's important that you understand that these powerful hormones can override even the most stable of moods, so patience and tolerance is encouraged.

Breast growth

Breast growth is really the onset of puberty. It begins with "buds" appearing and feel like masses of tissue or knots under the nipples. One breast may show signs of buds first followed by the second breast. It could take up to 6 months for the second breast to form a bud. Breast buds can sometimes be tender to the touch, but as the breasts develop, tenderness should subside. After the buds form, the breasts will gradually fill out and take shape. This would be the time to purchase training bras. Training bras provide some cushion as the breasts grow. Development is different with every girl, including size and shapes. Full breast development may take up to 3 years and usually ends around 18.

Secondary hair growth

Your daughter will begin to notice hair growth in her armpits, thicker, coarser hair growth on her legs and pubic area. Pubic hair development continues through puberty and usually slows upon menstruation.

Growth Spurt

It's common for young girls going through puberty to have one substantial growth spurt just before their first menstruation. This could be a 2 - 3 inch jump in height over a few months. Their bodies will be in a constant state of change.

First menstruation

The first menstrual period is known as menarche and marks the end of puberty for girls. Although menarche usually follows the secondary hair growth and final growth spurt, it is still unpredictable. Educate your daughter to be prepared for her first period. Let her know that it's normal for the first several periods to be somewhat unpredictable. Have your daughter carry a pad or tampon along with a change of underwear just in case. Usually, your daughter will have 2 - 3 periods before ovulation begins.

Ovulation

Ovulation begins after the first 2 - 3 period cycles. At this time, your daughter is fertile and can conceive a child. Having positive conversations about sex, gender and overall body image and esteem can help your daughter grow into a strong and independent woman. Ovulation will continue until menopause (approximately 40 years of age). It can take up to 3 years after puberty for a woman to fall into routine and predictable cycles.

This is an exciting time for both parents and your daughter, and it is a critical time for your daughter to create healthy habits, develop impulse control and establish positive self esteem — all of which will help her grow into a healthy, strong adult.

If you have concerns or questions, schedule a visit with your pediatrician or with and adolescent gynecologist who specializes in patients new to womanhood.

Karen K. Meyer, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Hawthorne Court (178 & Q)

Dr. Meyer answers your questions about child development and parenting. Dr. Meyer decided to become a doctor when she was in school and learned about the body's systems and the miracle of how they all work together. She likes talking to children and helping them feel better. Dr. Meyer believes that children are not little adults and they need to be treated in a way that will help them understand why they aren't feeling well and what they can do to get better. She also works to build tru ...

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