Puberty for girls

For each girl, different things will happen at different times. One girl might look grown up at 12, but her older classmate might look like her younger sister.

Your body's been working on this for a while, making the chemicals to start your ovaries releasing an egg each month. Once this happens, you will have periods and be able to get pregnant.

Before your period starts, these chemicals get other things happening too. Your body starts to change when you're about eight to 16 years. Here's some information to help you understand the changes you will go through and how to deal with them. 

For more information, see our portal for young people.   

Body changes

Once puberty starts, it will take about two years before you get your first period, but you will begin to notice other changes.

  • Your breasts start to grow first.
  • Hair starts to grow under your arms and in your pubic area.
  • Your hips start to get wider and curvy.
  • You might see a whitish discharge from your vagina on your underwear. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
  • You will get taller and heavier in spurts over the next couple of years, but probably not as much as your male friends.
  • Masturbation is common and normal. It won't make you blind or make hair grow on your palms.    
  • Hormones make your skin oilier, causing pimples. Sweat glands are more active, causing body odour.

Things to remember

  • You might have regular mood swings and even tummy pain up to a year before your period starts.
  • It's normal for one breast to grow faster than the other. Don't worry, they will even up.
  • Some girls also notice darker hair on their legs and arms. Shaving is a personal choice. There is no health reason for it.
  • Women need wider hips so they can have babies safely. There is no right size or shape for body parts. Most of us look more like other members of our family rather than actors in films or models in magazines.
  • You will grow about 5-11 cm a year for 3-4 years and get about 3-5.5 kg heavier each year. This isn't fat. It's new muscle and bone.
  • If pimples are a problem, your doctor can help.
  • Showering more often and using deodorant can help control body odour.

Periods

Your period is your body's way of getting ready for a pregnancy. Each month, the same things happen.

  1. Chemicals made in your brain make the endometrium, which is the lining of your uterus (womb), become thick and spongy like a nest for a pregnancy to grow in.
  2. An egg is released from the ovary. This is called ovulation.
  3. The egg moves down the tube from the ovary to the uterus.
  4. If you've had sex and the egg meets a sperm in the tube, a pregnancy can happen (fertilisation).
  5. The tiny cluster of cells lodges in the thick spongy lining of the uterus and a pregnancy starts. Chemicals made by these cells stop your periods.
  6. If you haven't had sex and there are no sperm, fertilisation can't happen. There is no need for the 'nest' and the lining comes away from the wall of the uterus as menstrual blood.
  7. This first day of bleeding is called day 1 of your cycle.
  8. As soon as your period finishes, the cycle starts again. The lining begins to grow and about 12 to 16 days before your next period is due, another egg is released. Some girls feel a sharp pain in the lower tummy at this time.

Pads or tampons?

Once you start to notice puberty changes like breast development, it's a good time to talk to your mum or another adult you trust about pads and tampons. You could start to carry a pad in your bag, just in case your period starts at school or away from home.

Many girls like to use pads at first and try tampons later, but the choice is yours. Most girls can use tampons easily, especially the slim types. You can practise inserting them between periods. Using tampons doesn't mean you're not a virgin.

Things to remember

  • The average cycle (the time between one period and the next) is about 28 days, but normal cycles can be from 21 to 35 days.
  • A period usually lasts about five days, but can last seven to 10 days for younger girls.
  • Bleeding is usually heaviest in the first few days.
  • You might get cramps and pain in your lower tummy just before and during the first few days of your period.
  • Your periods might be irregular for the first year or two. Some girls have one period then none for the next few months. That's just because it takes the ovaries a while to get used to releasing an egg each month.
  • It doesn't matter whether you use pads or tampons. It's up to you. 

Feelings and moods

How you feel changes during puberty too. You might not always understand your moods. Some days can be a struggle between wanting to be a child and wanting to be a grown up. Puberty is about working out who you are. It's about becoming a separate person from your parents. You might experience some or all of these things:      

  • having mood swings         
  • feeling full of energy one moment and very tired the next            
  • feeling self-conscious and sensitive about how you look
  • feeling like everyone is looking at you   
  • being easily embarrassed
  • wanting privacy in the bathroom or your bedroom
  • not wanting your parents and others to see you naked               
  • not wanting to do what your parents or teachers ask
  • having sexual feelings towards other people   
  • intense peer pressure and bullying (this often start around puberty)
  • impulsive and risky behaviour

Things to remember

  • Mood swings are a normal part of puberty for boys and girls. Many girls also feel more emotional just before their period.
  • It's important to get enough sleep and exercise. 
  • You might find you have less energy when you have your period.
  • With all the changes happening to your body, it's normal to be more aware of how you look. Other people usually won't notice. No one will be able to tell if you have your period unless you tell them.
  • Wanting privacy and independence is a normal part of becoming more aware of yourself as a sexual person and less dependent on your parents or carers.
  • Your parents or carers worry about your emotional and physical safety. It might feel like control to you, but they know what can happen because they've been there too. It can help to talk about how you're feeling. This shows maturity. Adults need to know you can handle new situations.
  • It's very common to be attracted to girls and boys at this time. Same-sex attraction is also normal. It takes time to work out who you're really attracted to. If you're worried about feeling attracted to other girls, talk to an adult you trust.
  • Everyone is going through their own issues, but that doesn't mean they should take it out on you. Tell an adult you trust if you're being pressured or bullied in any way. 
  • Trying new things is part of becoming independent, but taking drugs or drinking alcohol can be dangerous. Use common sense and be willing to say 'no' and mean it.

Taking control

Yes, hormones are to blame for most of what's happening to you right now, but don't let this be an excuse for acting badly. You can still control how you behave and what you say. You can think for yourself.

It's easy to think no one could understand how you feel, but every older person you know has been through the same things. Ask an adult you trust for help and advice if you're doing or experiencing things like:

  • feeling very worried, anxious or depressed
  • having frightening or threatening thoughts
  • thinking about killing yourself
  • taking drugs or drinking alcohol
  • being bullied, harassed or teased
  • being sexually or physically abused
  • facing violence or other problems at home.

Help if you need it

There is help out there for every problem. If it all feels too much, talk to an adult you trust. If you need more help, try these helplines and websites: 

More information

  • Click here to download our full brochure on puberty for girls
  • Click here to access our fact sheets on puberty and other reproductive and sexual health topics