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Puberty: Everything You Need to Know

There’s more to it than periods.

You might be menstruating but that’s not the end of your story, not according to your body, anyway. Puberty generally starts two to three years before your period arrives and for some people, the signs of puberty can be noticed from the age of eight upwards. But when do all these changes stop? When are you considered to be grown up? Here, we look at what you can expect over the course of the next few years.

Changes to Expect During Puberty

Your body continues to lengthen into your late teens. You generally reach your final height by the age of 20.

Breast development can take anything from three to 10 years to be complete so don’t be surprised if your boobs continue to grow, becoming rounder and fuller in shape, right into your late teens or early twenties.

Once your period arrives, your ovaries will start to produce the hormone, progesterone. Progesterone sends a signal to the brain that triggers the milk glands in your breasts to develop. You may not see any change to your breasts whilst this is happening but it’s pretty important for breast development.

You may also be starting to see a change to the nipple and areola as these are often the last parts of your breast to develop. You can read more about that here

Puberty is a time of dramatic change in size, shape and function of all of the reproductive organs. Wondering about that abdominal pain? The sometimes barely-there tummy ache that continues between your periods? That’s your reproductive organs continuing to mature. Here’s what that means:

  • The vagina grows in length to reach an average adult length of approximately 9cm (this can vary from 6-12cm from person to person). Remember, your vagina is the muscular passage that leads to your cervix - it is not your external genitalia.
  • Your uterus grows very rapidly and its length can increase from 3.5cm to a final adult size of around 7.5 cm long.
  • During the initial years of puberty, your hymen will start to stretch naturally. Your hymen is a small piece of skin that surrounds or partially covers your vaginal opening.  As you enter the later teen years, the hymen can change in texture and become thicker, sometimes with folds of skin being noticed.
  • Your vulva is the external part of your reproductive system and the part you can see. Both during and after your period has arrived, you will notice a change to the shape and colour of your vulva with some girls feeling that their labia have ‘dropped’. But this is not the case, the labia are simply growing and maturing. The size and shape of the labia vary greatly between different bodies.

Your brain is pretty busy during your adolescent years too, responding to the increases in both sex and growth hormones. And (yawn), it’s not uncommon for these hormones to change your sleeping pattern, too. You may find you’re not at all tired at bedtime but then overtired in the morning. Don’t be alarmed if you struggle to get up or feel motivated: this is a perfectly normal experience during adolescence and you’re not just a ‘lazy teenager’! On the plus side, here are some of the things your brain will become much better at in your teenage years:

  • Memory
  • Problem solving
  • Increased vocabulary
  • Improved grammatical skills

And what does this mean for you? You may start to see a more mature approach to the way you solve problems. You might also find that you use new or advanced vocabulary to articulate how you’re feeling or to explain an idea, either verbally or in your writing. Hello, new-and-improved you.

Sigh. The journey from childhood to adulthood can start and end between the ages of 12-25, which is why you may find the proverbial emotional roller coaster of your teens continuing into your twenties. If you find that your moods or emotions are out of control and getting to the point where they disrupt your everyday life, chat to your parent or guardian about possibly seeking out professional help to develop some healthier coping mechanisms for better emotional wellbeing.

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Teens FAQs

What are tampons?

Most tampons are made from a cotton like material, which is compressed into a small cylinder shape. Tampons are worn inside your vagina to absorb menstrual fluid. There are two different types of tampon, known as applicator and non-applicator and these give you a choice about how you insert them.

Why is period blood different?

Menstrual blood is not the same as the blood you see when you cut yourself elsewhere on the body. Menstrual fluid lines the walls of your uterus and is called endometrium; this is a mixture of blood, tissue cells and natural secretions from the vagina and cervix and is not toxic or harmful in any way.

How long will I have periods for?

On average you can menstruate for up to 40 years, with 13 periods each year, that’s a whopping 520 periods in a lifetime! So now you can see why it’s important to understand your menstrual cycle and use the correct products for your flow.

How much blood is in a period?

It can look like there is an awful lot of blood being lost but don't worry! You’ll be surprised to learn that for people with an average menstrual flow, no more than 2.5 tablespoons or an egg cup full of blood is released each month.

What colour is a period?

Menstrual fluid is not always red in colour – it can vary from very light brown to dark red (almost black) and this is perfectly normal. Your period may be lighter in colour at the start or you may only experience a lighter colour on the last couple of days... It all depends on your individual flow!

Will my period stop if I go in water?

You may have heard the rumour that periods stop in water due to water pressure, or depending on how cold the water is and therefore you don’t need to use any protection at all. This is NOT TRUE, menstrual fluid is released when the muscles surrounding your uterus contract and they can do this anywhere and anytime, even in water. So make sure you're always protected - a tampon is the best option because it's worn internally.

What do I do with used tampons?

Don’t flush your used tampon down the loo! Instead roll it up in tissue and pop it in a bin in the toilets or with other household waste.

When am I going to get breasts?

Breast development can start from the age of 7 -15 with the average being around 9-13, so don’t worry if your friends start developing or wearing bras before you, we are all different and it’s not a competition!

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