What is puberty?
As you transition from childhood to adulthood, your body and mind undergo a huge change. You may notice the following changes in your body as you near the end of your transition phase:
- Your body reaches its adult height and proportion
- You develop secondary sexual characteristics
- Your body becomes ready to reproduce
The physical and psychological changes are brought about by hormones and this period is known as puberty. It usually lasts throughout your teenage years, but sometimes you may even enter your twenties.
What happens during this time?
The hypothalamus is a small endocrine organ that is responsible for signaling the body to start developing adult characteristics. The hormones that are released send signals to the reproductive organs to start producing a range of other hormones.
When this happens, you start noticing changes in your:
- Secondary sexual characteristics
- Breast tissues
- Brain development
- Bone and muscle structure
- Skin and hair
You may also notice the following psychological changes during puberty:
- More intense emotions
- Mood swings
- Sexual attraction and thoughts
If you have started feeling sexual desire and attraction to others, you may discover your sexual orientation at this point and maybe identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or others. You may even notice a lack of sexual desire and choose to identify as asexual. Further, you may even notice a disparity between your physical characteristics and your gender identity and begin to identify as transgender and gender non-binary.
When does puberty start and end for girls?
Usually, girls start to hit puberty at the age range of 8-13. The starting point can vary from one girl to another, but this is usually the age bracket when you start developing. You may even begin puberty early or experience it later, but the 5 broad stages of puberty remain as follows:
- Breast development - One of the very first external signs of puberty is breast development in girls. Around the age of 10, small bumps appear under the nipples which start to enlarge in every direction in a rounded manner over the next few years. As your boobs enlarge, they may start to ache or itch and this is totally normal.
- Additional hair growth - Apart from the usual places, you will start to develop coarse hair in areas like your underarms and pubic region. This usually starts around the age of 11 and additionally, you may also notice the hair on your legs getting darker and thicker.
- Changes in height and body shape - Over the next few years, you will start to grow in height. It may begin with a sudden growth spurt and then a gradual increase over the next 5-7 years. There are ways in which you can capitalise on your maximum potential height and it may be worth looking into it. Further, you may get thicker and curvier around the hips, bottom region and thighs. This happens in preparation for reproduction as the mass in this area and pelvic bone growth is needed to support a child.
- Menstruation - A couple of years into puberty can bring forth your menses, which can begin at the age of 12 on average. Some people may get their period earlier or later than this time and unless it is abnormally early or late, you don’t need to worry. Irregular periods are normal for the first couple of years, but as your body adjusts to the natural process of menstruation, your cycle will also begin to get regularised, unless you develop a disorder like PCOS or the like.
Hormonal and emotional changes - Hormonal changes not only affect your body but also make puberty a roller coaster journey for most. You may get annoyed over little things or develop a rebellious side. The same hormones may even give you acne, which can further add to your emotional distress. Your body odour and sweat will also change due to the same hormones and you can start getting attracted to other people during this time in a romantic and sexual way. If you get curious about having sex for the first time, it is important that you talk to a trusted adult and gain adequate sex education before venturing out in this field.
These changes will most likely start to subside by the time you are 16 years old and end by the time you are 18, which is usual for most girls. But everyone is unique and there are some people who start puberty late, so it can even stretch to your early twenties. There is usually nothing to worry about and the best thing to do is not compare yourself to your peers.
Can anything affect puberty in girls?
There are certain things that can delay puberty and these can include:
- Nutrition - A well-balanced diet is essential throughout life, but is more important for someone who is growing. Teenagers need proper nutrients and physical activity to grow at a proper rate and continue their development throughout puberty.
- Genetics - Sometimes, being a “late bloomer” may run in the family and your genetics can influence when you will start and end puberty. There is usually nothing to worry about in this case and it’s important to remember that you will get to the finish line, even if it’s after your peers.
- Activity level - Girls require a certain amount of body fat before going through the process of puberty. So, females who exercise a lot or train to become an athlete may enter puberty later.
- Long-term conditions - Children who suffer from long-term conditions like asthma, kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, etc may go through delayed puberty. If the condition is well-managed, they may be on time.
Hormonal issues - Certain problems with the hormone glands like the pituitary of the thyroid glands can delay puberty. Also, if you have chromosome related problems, you can notice an interference with puberty. Being overweight can also affect your hormone levels and make you a late bloomer.
How do you know if puberty has ended for you?
Usually, you won’t need an indication to mark the end of puberty. With girls, once their breasts have developed fully and their height has stopped increasing, you can begin to assume that your puberty is coming to an end.
Your periods should also have begun and your rebellious phase is most likely to subside down and emotional stability is attained. By the time you reach 20 years of age, puberty should have ended for most girls.