Puberty happens because of a series of hormonal changes that activate and increase the production of what we call ‘sex hormones’: oestrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. These are responsible for the physical changes during puberty. You may hardly notice the first few months of puberty as the changes in your body are only slight until the production of oestrogen (or testosterone for boys) reaches a higher level.
Generally speaking, the first physical changes during puberty in girls are breast development and body growth. Other puberty changes are:
Between the ages of 8 and 14 (there’s no exact age, as this varies from person to person), girls will notice that their bodies are changing and starting to grow. This stage in your life is called puberty and this is when you start to leave your childhood behind and physically become an adult.
It’s important to bear in mind that these changes don’t all happen at the same time, they don’t always happen in the same order, or by a certain age, as the whole process can be very different from one person to the next.
A ‘growth spurt’ is what we call a rapid increase in growth, especially in height, which is particularly noticeable during puberty. The fastest growth spurt in girls tends to coincide with their first period, and from then on growth slows down. However, physical changes (growth in the breasts, growth of body hair, body growth) go on for a few more years.
When your breasts start to develop, you’ll notice a firmness underneath the areola, or the outer part of the nipple (on one or both breasts). This can feel a bit uncomfortable and is called the ‘breast bud’. In the following months, at the same time as changes are happening to the nipple and the areola, this bud starts to grow in size, until it forms a mound that you can actually see, and this will continue to develop until it becomes an adult breast. This breast development usually takes between five and nine years.
As your breasts develop during puberty, you may notice some changes to your nipples. Don’t worry – this is completely normal! Just like breasts, nipples come in all shapes and sizes: some girls have “outie” nipples that stick out when they’re cold, and others have “innie” nipples that stick inwards. Having inverted nipples is totally normal and nothing to worry about. You may also notice some dark hair beginning to grow around your areola – this is also nothing to worry about, and all part of the process of puberty.
At some point, hormonal changes will cause the ovaries to start releasing the eggs that they’ve been storing since you were born. This will trigger the monthly menstrual cycle, and your period is just one part of this. The fancy word for the arrival of your first period is ‘menarche’. This normally takes quite a while – there is generally a gap of two to three years, but at least one year, between the first signs of breast development and the arrival of your first period. So, the average age for starting your period is between 10 and 16.
Once puberty is in its advanced stages, you enter adolescence, which is a time of psychosocial and cultural changes, where we all start searching for our own identity and become adults psychologically (in our minds), as well as our bodies. As a rule, it can be said that we undergo physical changes during puberty and psychological changes during adolescence.
As with any period of change, it’s normal to feel confused, uncomfortable, or generally a bit out of sorts during puberty and adolescence. But it can also be a very interesting time for experimenting – and for exploring and getting used to your body.
The body also goes through emotional changes during puberty. The way you think changes and you’ll notice you can express yourself better. You may also feel more self-conscious and unsure of yourself – but try not to worry. This is a time of physical and emotional change, so everyone else your age is feeling the same way. You will also feel more emotional in general, thanks to your hormones. Your fluctuating hormones are what cause mood swings during puberty, and you may notice that you feel like crying a lot more or are more easily upset.
Boys normally start to change one or two years later than girls. They also experience physical changes during puberty: