The first recognizable signs of puberty for most girls are changes in the breast, beginning with a little swelling or enlargement of the nipple. Often one breast (usually the left) will begin to develop before the other breast. The girl may notice a small lump or “breast bud” in the skin under the nipple, which may be somewhat tender or sore. Breast budding generally begins at age 9 or 10, or anywhere from age 8 to age 14, depending on family growth patterns and other factors.

Sweat glands change in early puberty, too, and begin to produce sweat with an “adult” odor. Your daughter may notice the odor after playing competitive sports, after taking a test at school or in other stressful situations. I know a fifth grade teacher who sends a note home to all parents at the start of the school year asking that all students in the class use underarm deodorant!

During the next several years, girls experience rapid height and weight changes, and their appetites increase to provide them with enough nutrients for proper growth. You may notice that your once picky eater is now ravenous when she gets home from school, asks for more milk with supper, and is in the refrigerator constantly!

In the prepubescent years, girls grow about two to three inches and gain 4 to 8 pounds each year. But growth accelerates dramatically in puberty and usually peaks at age 11 or 12. That’s at least two years earlier than boys’ growth peaks, which is why sixth and seventh grade girls are often taller. At the peak of growth, which occurs in the year before the first period, girls grow three to five inches, and are likely to gain 15 to 20 pounds.

Pubic hair and darker, denser leg hair begin to appear within six to 12 months of breast development. For many black girls, pubic hair appears at about the same time as breast budding.

Underarm hair will appear a year or so later. Your daughter may appreciate advice about whether or not to remove underarm hair, and how to do it safely.

A girl’s first period is called menarche. Menarche occurs in the United States, on average, at age 12.5, about 2 to 2.5 years after the first breast changes appear — usually between age 10 and 16. Most girls experience menarche within a year of the age when their mothers and sisters experienced it.

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