1. Health

Puberty Basics

What is Puberty?

By

Updated June 19, 2014

Puberty is the time when your body begins to change from a child’s body into an adult woman’s body. Boys also experience puberty although they’re usually a little older when their body begins to change. For girls, puberty usually begins between the ages of 9 and 13, while boys experience their changes between the ages of 10 and 14. This is why girls are often taller than boys are during puberty and why girls sometimes feel uncomfortable about their bodies during puberty. Don’t worry if you’re taller than the boys are, before you know it, the boys will be the taller gender. Puberty is nothing to fear, in fact, it’s the beginning of your own independence. Puberty gives you more freedom because you’re maturing and are able to begin to make responsible choices of your own.

What Causes Puberty to Start?

Hormones are the reason that the physical and emotional changes of puberty begin. For girls, the hormone that starts puberty is estrogen; the production of the hormone testosterone begins puberty in boys. Estrogen is the female hormone, while testosterone is the male hormone. However, the fact is that women produce a small amount of testosterone and boys produce some estrogen. Another hormone that plays an important role in female reproductive health is progesterone. You may also hear these hormones called sex hormones. These are the key reproductive hormones; however, the body produces many other hormones that work together with other parts of the body, such as the thyroid, to keep us healthy.

What Happens During Puberty?

When puberty begins, one of the first things that happen is that your monthly menstrual cycle starts. The start of your periods means that you’re a woman now and pregnancy can occur at anytime that you decide that you’re ready to have sexual intercourse. Think carefully before you decide that having sex is worth the risk of becoming pregnant.

Don’t think that because it’s your first time having sex that you won’t get pregnant. That is simply not true. There is no “safe” time to have sex without getting pregnant. If you’re thinking about having sex, talk to your doctor about how you can protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy, as well as from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs.

Other changes that occur during puberty include:

  • Breast changes. During puberty, your breasts will begin to grow larger. You may feel a small, sometimes painful, lump just below your nipple when your breasts start to develop. This is perfectly normal occurrence in girls.

  • Body hair. This is the time when you’ll start to notice soft hair beginning to grow in your pubic area; overtime this hair begins to grow thicker and you’ll notice hair growing under your arms and on your legs. If you decide you want to shave this new body hair, make sure to use clean water and a new razor. Never use anyone else’s razor. Sharing razors may cause other infections to develop.

  • Body size and shape. The size and shape of your body also changes during puberty. Your hips widen, while your waist gets smaller. You’ll also develop extra fat in your stomach and buttocks. Don’t worry, you’re not getting fat; you’re body is developing the curves that grown up women’s bodies have.

    Another change to your body is the lengthening of your arms, legs, and the growth of hands and feet. Often, these changes occur more rapidly than the changes in the rest of your body. Sometimes girls feel uncomfortable at this stage of development. Fortunately, these are temporary changes and you won’t even notice them when the rest of your developing body catches up.

  • Emotional changes. You might think you’re going crazy sometimes during puberty. You’re not. Many girls and women experience these feelings around the time their period comes each month. These types of emotional ups, downs, irritability are most often due to the fluctuating hormone levels that happen during the menstrual cycle. You might notice that sometimes you feel great, and before you know what happened, you may suddenly feel horrible emotionally and physically.

If your emotions become too intense, talk to your doctor. You might be experiencing premenstrual syndrome or PMS or another condition. Your doctor may be able to prescribe some medicine or lifestyle changes that may help improve your mood swings. Regular exercise and dietary changes are often effective ways to treat PMS or other emotional changes during puberty and throughout your life.

Talk to your mom, an older sister, or another woman you feel comfortable talking to about how the physical and emotional changes of puberty make you feel. It’s often easier to deal with these changes when you have someone that you can talk to about your feelings.

Reference: Puberty Information for Boys and Girls, American Academy of Pediatrics / AAP, accessed 09/12/06

Related Video
Learn the Basics of Event Planning
Relieve Breastfeeding Problems

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.