Puberty in Girls (or AFAB): All the Facts and Info You Need to Get Through It

Puberty can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s also an important time in your child’s life. This guide for parents will help you get through it—together.

Though at times awkward and uncomfortable, puberty is inevitable. It’s something that we all go through, at some point or another. And as awkward as it may be, puberty is an important time in a person’s life as they grow and develop into adulthood. As parents, this can be a confusing time as well. You might have found yourself at this blog post wondering how you can best help your assigned female at birth (AFAB) child navigate puberty.

woman in period underwear

While it can be anxiety-inducing and cause for both nerves and excitement, knowing what to expect and how it affects your AFAB child’s body can make the experience less stressful for both of you.

Here’s a little refresher of the basics of what puberty means and how these changes can affect a person’s body. We have compiled some common questions and answers about puberty to make your child’s experience smoother, to help you answer any questions they may have, and to guide you as a parent through this transition as well.

What is puberty?

Puberty is the process of when one’s body changes from child to adult. It doesn’t happen all at once, but in stages and often takes many years. For many AFAB people, puberty ends in their late teens, somewhere around 17 or 18 years old. Here’s a quick science breakdown of what it is, in case any parents reading this have forgotten all about puberty:

Puberty is controlled by hormones. The pituitary gland releases hormones that make the body grow. When AFAB people reach a certain age, usually somewhere between the ages of eight and 13, the gland then begins to release different hormones to mature the body. These hormones cause the sexual organs in the body– in AFAB folks, the ovaries–, to begin to produce other hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which cause the visible signs of puberty, hair growth and genital development, to occur.

woman looking at phone

It’s important to know that each AFAB puberty experience is different and unique, and that no experience is wrong. It is not a one size fits all situation. For parents guiding their child through puberty, it’s vital to be compassionate and present when your child is experiencing: It can be frustrating for your child if their friends are developing first and they feel left behind, or if the opposite is true and they are the first to go through puberty in their class. 

When Does Puberty Start? Is It True That It’s Starting Earlier Than Usual?

Like we said, puberty is different for every single person. There isn’t an exact age, but it's common for AFAB folks to start puberty between the ages of eight and 13. This explains why some develop earlier than others, and others experience delayed puberty.

Once AFAB puberty starts, your child will grow pubic hair and develop breast buds. You can expect that their period will start about one to two years after that. Studies have shown that puberty is starting earlier and earlier. There are many factors to this, but obesity, environmental factors and stress can affect your period. For more info read our post on what age people usually get their period.

two friends hanging out

Early Puberty in Girls and AFAB People

It can be tough when a child goes through puberty early. Your child might feel confused when none of their friends are developing and then all of a sudden they have breast buds and find themselves wearing bras at nine years old.

If this is happening to your child, remind them that everyone else will catch up to them. Like we said before, puberty is inevitable, and everybody’s experience with it happens on a different timeline. This can be a difficult, challenging, and confusing time, and it’s important for your child to feel like they have someone to talk to while going through these life-changing experiences. Try to be that person for them. Speaking openly will help eliminate embarrassment from their situation and ensure they feel comfortable.

Signs of Puberty

Some signs of puberty happen overnight, while other stages take longer. We have broken it down between physical changes and emotional ones. Here they are:

Physical

  1. Growth spurt: Your child will all of a sudden grow inches taller and their feet will get bigger as well.
  2. Breast buds: Small, tender lumps will begin to appear underneath their nipples. 
  3. Skin changes: Puberty hormones cause the skin to produce more oil, especially on the face, which can cause acne. Encourage your child to wash their face and hair regularly during this time, and head to the dermatologist to discuss any concerns.
  4. Body odor: Sweat glands become more active, which causes B.O. This is when they will begin to need deodorant. 
  5. Hair growth: The pubic area and underarm region will begin to develop a thatch of coarse, dark hair.
  6. Vaginal discharge: The appearance of vaginal discharge (white or yellowish in colour) means their period is well on its way. 
  7. Period: Before menstruation begins, put together a period emergency kit for your child so they’ll be less apprehensive about potentially getting it at school or extracurricular activities.

Please note: The order of these physical stages might be different for your child because everyone develops differently.

woman lying on floor reading phone

Emotional

  1. Mood swings: Get ready for some fun, emotional mood swings. Your child might be happy one second, and angry or sad the next. Try to be gentle with them and remember this behaviour is just as confusing for your child as it is for you.

  2. Separating: Expressing an interest in becoming more independent and taking on greater responsibilities.

  3. Romantic interest: Showing a newfound romantic or sexual attraction to people.

How Long Does Puberty Last For Girls and AFAB People?

Puberty in AFAB people will usually last three to five years. After your child gets their first period, their growth will slow down, but they might have one more growth spurt. They might grow one to three more inches over the next few years. Their breasts are usually fully developed around 17 to 18 years old.
Don’t forget– be as open as possible and talk to your child. Be there for them emotionally to help navigate this confusing and completely new time. These experiences can be hard and challenging, but if your child can talk to someone, their puberty years will be easier. It is your responsibility as a parent to support and guide them through this time. Remember to affirm their confidence, promote positive body image and be a good role model for them in these formative years.

woman lying on floor

Please note: We are not health practitioners. If you have more questions or have concerns, please talk to your doctor**

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