Puberty and Menstruation
The time in your girl's life when secondary sexual traits develop is called puberty. The word puberty has two different Latin origins. One is pubertas, meaning “like an adult.” The other is pubescere, meaning “to grow hair.” Puberty usually happens between the ages of ten and fifteen, and refers to the physical changes in your daughter that set the stage for the emotional changes of the next segment in her life, adolescence. Girls experience the start of puberty at different ages while the entire process can take up to four years.
Most girls begin to show noticeable changes in their bodies that include the growth of breasts, pubic and underarm hair, widening of the hips, enlargement of the uterus, and the start of menstruation, at age ten to twelve. But even some third-graders can exhibit prepuberty signs.
The process of puberty is a miracle, so tell your daughter about it long before it happens. Certainly by the time she is eight or nine, talk to her about the wonderful physical changes that are ahead. Use side-by-side talk if you are watching TV together and a commercial about sanitary products comes on. Use over-the-shoulder talk if she is in the backseat while you are driving to the mall. Just make sure the topic is out in the open and on the table any time she has a question or concern about it. Get her excited about the wonders that will soon take place in her body and clue her in to the specifics.
While the average age of a girl starting her period is twelve and a half, it is normal for some girls to begin menstruating much earlier and others much later. Getting her first period can be traumatic for some girls, so be available with understanding, advice, and some good books on the topic written. The library offers many choices.
Plan for a celebration just for the two of you when the big event occurs, discuss the details of the festivities, and ask her how she wants to kick off her entrance into the circle of biological womanhood.
Becoming more adult-like in her body, looks, and thought is the result of your daughter's puberty. This process is generally thought to be complete when she has regular periods that happen at predictable intervals.
Make sure your daughter keeps a record of when the following events happen: spotting, a light menstrual flow, a medium flow, and a heavy flow.
By keeping track of these events she can record the miraculous way her body works, predict her next period, and have lots of supplies on hand. Go to the store and pick up several types of sanitary products — from liners to minis to wings to tampons — give them to her and let her pick through them. In other words, show your daughter that her puberty matters to you and that you will be there to help her and talk about these big changes whenever she needs to.
The age at which menstruation begins has been decreasing for the past hundred years. This may be due to an overall improvement in nutrition and the standard of living. Heavier girls menstruate earlier while a girl's strenuous sports activity can delay the onset of her periods.
Get your daughter to vent what is on her mind about the changes she sees in herself. See beneath her “camouflaging,” that is, her acting in a conforming manner that denies her individuality. Tell her everybody handles puberty differently. With your help, she will use this time as a steppingstone and not a stumbling block. Giggle with your girl over any embarrassing experiences during your puberty. Tell her a few decades ago people did not even discuss the topic of puberty.
If you are uncomfortable with the topic yourself, load up on pamphlets from the guidance department of your daughter's school. Scan them, then hand them to your girl. To master her menstruation ABCs, she needs to know more than just the clinical definition of menstruation, which is the shedding of the endometrium, or lining, of the uterus. The usual monthly blood loss varies. About two fluid ounces in total is an approximate norm. But again, there is really no normal period.
Whatever periods your daughter experiences, they are normal for her, with the spacing between periods being, on the average, between twenty-four and thirty-five days. In the beginning, she will not be regular, but within a year or two, she will ovulate predictably. Should she, or you, feel something is out of kilter, of course, see the doctor.
About 10 percent of girls experience cramping in their lower abdomen before their periods. That happens because the uterus spasms to release the period flow. Exercise such as walking, jogging, or biking can help. A warm bath or a heating pad can also ease the pain. If the cramps are severe, ask the doctor what medications she recommends.
A New Daughter
The many changes your girl experiences, starting with her tweens, will affect all major aspects of her life. This time is an important prelude. She is on the verge of growing up. She can use this time as a starting block for a new emphasis on her academics or a change in her athletic involvement. As her body morphs from the shape of a rectangle to more rounded, her thoughts will change, too, from little girl ones to more mature ones. Her social connections and relationships will also undergo an upheaval. In short, your daughter is on the edge of blossoming into the inner and outer beauty she is meant to be. Congratulate her.