Dr. Ashley McClary, a pediatrician at McDowell Pediatrics in Marion, offers expert advice on having “the puberty talk,” as seen in WNC Parent.
The teen and preteen (or “tween”) years are precious years of rapid growth defined by pushing boundaries and establishing independence. This is an exciting time, but it can also be very confusing for our children and challenging for parents.
One particularly challenging, but critical, discussion to have is “the puberty talk.” To help guide this discussion, I’ve highlighted some basic information regarding the menstrual cycle.
Girls will begin to see changes to their bodies between the ages of 8 and 13. The first sign of puberty for girls is growth of the breasts, or breast buds. After this, pubic hair develops and breasts continue to grow. About two years after puberty has started they will have their first period, or menarche. Many times there will be an increase in vaginal discharge 6 months prior to the first period. So, unless this discharge has a strong odor or causes itchiness there’s no need to worry.
In order to have a period, hormones from the pituitary gland in the brain need to communicate with the ovaries, which in turn will release an egg, a process called ovulation. A few days before the egg is released, the uterus lining builds up in preparation for the egg. However, if the egg isn’t fertilized, the egg will not attach to the uterus and the extra tissue will shed causing the bleeding that is seen during a period.
It is important to note that many girls will have irregular periods up to the first two years after menarche because their bodies are still maturing. After this time, most cycles will last between 21-34 days. A cycle is considered the time from the first day of bleeding one month to the first day of bleeding the following month. Your teen should get into the habit of tracking her cycle. Doing so will teach her to take ownership over her health and also help her predict when periods may occur. There are many period tracking smartphone apps or she can put a dot or star on her agenda.
Periods generally last between three to seven days. Many girls may be nervous about having their periods at school, so it’s important to plan with them. For example, you may provide them with a “starter kit” containing a couple pads and wipes. Remind them that the school nurse will also have supplies if they run out.
Remember, there’s no perfect way to discuss puberty. Your child may have lots of questions or no questions at all. So take a deep breath, remind her that it’s a natural part of growing up and that you are there to help find answers to her questions together.
Dr. Ashley McClary is a pediatrician at McDowell Pediatrics in Marion. To make an appointment, call 828-652-6386. To find a pediatric provider in your area, visit www.mission-health.org/provider.