Puberty, Periods and Girls

What is puberty?

Between the ages of 10 and 14 most boys and girls begin to notice changes taking places to their bodies. These changes which take place over a number of years also include emotional changes and are sometimes referred to as puberty.


Puberty starts when extra amounts of chemicals called hormones start to be produced in the body.

The changes take place in all boys and girls but they will start at different times. Generally the changes start later for boys than girls. In some people they start before the age of 10. Other people will only start to change after the age of 14. The changes also take place at a different rate in different people. In some people all the changes take place in 2 years. In other people they can take as long as 4 years.

Puberty starts when extra amounts of chemicals called hormones start to be produced in the body. These hormones guide the changes that take place in the body. As well as causing physical changes these hormones also cause emotional changes to occur.

What are the physical changes that take place in girls during puberty?

A girl’s breasts will start to grow and her hips get rounder. Hair will start to grow under her arms. Hair, often called pubic hair, will also grow between her legs. She will also start to have periods.

What is a period?

When a girl “has her period”, a small amount of bleeding (a few spoonfuls) takes place from her vagina. The vagina is a small opening that girls have between their legs. The bleeding will last for a few days and usually happens every month. This bleeding is sometimes referred to as menstruation and is not something to be scared of. Some girls get a white stain in their panties before they have had their first period, and this means their first period may begin soon.

Most girls will have their first period between the ages of 11 and 14. But some girls will start as early as 8, whilst others may be as late as 17.

Once a girl has had her period a few times she may notice that her body or mood changes slightly beforehand. For example, her breasts may feel sore, or become larger, or she may get spots on her face. But no one can tell if a girl has her period just by looking at her.

How does a girl stop blood getting on her clothes during her period?

When a girl has her period she can use sanitary towels or tampons to soak up the blood. Most girls start by using sanitary towels.

Sanitary towels are thin pads made of a soft cotton-like material. They are worn by a girl inside her panties. Most towels have a sticky strip on them that sticks the pad to the inside of the girl’s panties.

A tampon is like a small rolled up piece of cotton wool with a string at one end. A girl pushes a tampon into her vagina leaving the string hanging outside her body. The string is then used to pull the tampon out. Some tampons also come with cardboard or plastic applicators that insert the tampon for you. As a tampon is put into the vagina there is no problem about going to the toilet when using a tampon.

Sanitary towels and tampons can both be bought in supermarkets and chemists. They usually come in packets of about 10 or 15. Towels and tampons come in different thicknesses so you can use a thicker one when the bleeding is heavier, and thinner ones for lighter bleeding.

In areas where tampons and towels are not available, or are too expensive to afford, many women will use rags or old strips of cloth or towelling to soak up the blood. “Menstrual cups” (small latex or silicone cups that are inserted into the vagina to collect the blood) are also available from chemists in some countries, and most can be washed and reused many times.

How often does a sanitary towel or tampon need to be changed and how do you dispose of them?

A sanitary towel should be changed every few hours during the day, even if the flow of blood is not very great. A sanitary towel can be used overnight without changing. Tampons should be changed several times a day and a tampon should not be used overnight. Changing tampons is particularly important because if a girl forgot to change a tampon for a long time, perhaps 24 hours or more, then it could make her ill.

Used sanitary towels and tampons should be wrapped up and put in a bin. In most women’s public toilets there is a special bin in each cubicle which used sanitary towels and tampons can be put in.

Do periods hurt?

Some girls feel uncomfortable or have cramp-like pains when they have periods. For some girls the pain can be quite intense and it may be necessary to talk to a doctor about it. Usually the pain is not very bad and does not last very long. If you have any difficulty you should talk to an adult, as there are a number of things that can be done to help.

When a girl has her period she can do the things she normally does including having a bath or shower. Washing the vaginal area daily helps prevent infections developing. But it’s a good idea to wash and dry from front to back to avoid spreading germs to the vagina.

When having a bath the amount of blood will not be enough to change the colour of the water. If a girl is using a tampon she should take it out before having a bath or shower and use a new one afterwards. If a girl wants to go swimming whilst she has her period she should use a tampon rather than a sanitary towel.

When does a girl need to start wearing a bra?

There is no set time when a girl needs to start wearing a bra and some girls go through life never wearing one. Girls who wear a bra usually do so because they feel more comfortable wearing one. Some girls wear a bra only when they are doing sports, others wear one all the time except when sleeping. Bras are made with different size cups for different breast sizes.

Often one breast grows faster than the other. Some girls’ breasts remain small throughout their adult lives. Some girls find that their breasts or nipples start to tingle or itch whilst they grow. But these feelings stop when the breast stops growing.

It is not necessary to wear a bra to keep breasts healthy.

What can a girl do if…

She gets spots?

Almost everybody has spots at some time during their life. Most young people get spots around puberty. Washing your face more often with mild unperfumed or antiseptic soap and warm water may help. Some people find that not eating certain foods such as chips and chocolate can help. Other people say this won’t help because it is the higher level of hormones in the body that is causing the spots to occur. For some people drinking lots of water can be very effective in helping prevent spots.

It is important to try not to pick at, or squeeze, the spots as this can cause them to become infected. It may help to use some special anti-acne cream or lotion. You can buy this from chemists and some supermarkets. If you get very bad spots it might be acne which your doctor can help with by giving you pills or special creams.

She has mood swings?

Girls and boys may experience sudden changes in feelings during puberty. Feelings can swing backwards and forwards, and you may feel like laughing at one moment and crying the next. Sudden mood changes are partly caused by the increasing amount of hormones in the body.

Talking to a friend or someone you trust can help to relieve your feelings. Mood changes are only temporary, and will settle down with time.

Her period starts and she doesn’t have a sanitary towel or tampon?

A girl can always use something soft like tissues, or rolled-up toilet paper inside her panties to soak up the blood until she can get a sanitary towel or tampon.

Her period starts when she is at school?

If you are at school you should ask a friend or a teacher or other adult if they could help. There might be some sanitary towels i
n the school office as it quite often happens that a girl’s period starts unexpectedly.

Someone says she smells?

As boys and girls’ bodies develop during puberty so too do their sweat glands. These glands are to help control the body’s temperature and result in more sweat being produced. The best way to reduce the risk of smelling is to wash and change your clothes regularly and perhaps use anti-perspirant deodorant on especially smelly areas, e.g. under your arms. However, most girls do not need to use a vaginal deodorant, and these may cause irritation.

Her period doesn’t start when she expects it to?

When a girl first starts having periods they can occur at very irregular intervals. It can often take a couple of years before a girl’s periods settle down and occur at regular intervals. The interval between periods is then usually about 28 days (a month).

Changes in your emotions can also cause changes to your periods. For example, worry about a period starting can sometimes cause further delay to the period.

However if you have had sexual intercourse you could be pregnant if your period does not start when you expect it to. You must in these circumstances talk to an adult or see a doctor as soon as possible.

She is being bullied because of her size?

If a girl is being bullied because of her size or for any other reason, then she should talk to an adult.

She is unhappy about the way she looks?

The physical changes that occur during puberty can cause considerable worry for young people. Some people become worried because they are growing or changing faster or slower than their friends.

Height and weight are the two things that can particularly worry young people. But try and think about things you like about yourself and the way you look. Also remember that your body is changing and will keep changing.