What’s going on? Why am I changing? What is puberty? What is this “period” all about? What is happening to my body? Suddenly, changes are beginning to take place in you and in your friends. It can seem confusing and embarrassing if you don’t understand it all. This brochure will try to answer your questions about these changes and feelings in simple, medical terms.
Puberty is the time in your life when you stop being a little girl and begin to mature physically, emotionally, and intellectually into a woman. Puberty is part of life. Every person experiences it — even boys! Puberty is an exciting phase of your life! As you begin to understand your body’s activities and the reasons for all these changes, you will be amazed at the incredible way your body works! Your emotions may change from moment to moment. You may feel happy and on a cloud one day and under a cloud the next! You may start crying at the slightest word or look. Don’t worry! The hormones causing your physical changes are rushing through your body affecting your emotions as well. You are very normal! Eventually your body will adjust to the changes and you will feel more relaxed.
Your Reproductive System
Your female reproductive system is where many changes occur each day of your menstrual cycle. Your female reproductive organs include two ovaries, two Fallopian tubes, the uterus, and the vagina. The ovaries, tubes, and uterus are located in the lower abdominal region called the pelvis. The base of the uterus is the cervix, a doughnut-shaped muscle. Below the cervix is the vagina, or “birth canal,” a narrow space which exits your body between your legs. This vaginal opening is located between the urethra (through which urine exits the body) and the anus (through which solid waste-feces-exits the body). The vaginal opening is covered by small folds of skin called the labia and this part of your body is termed the vulva or “genital area.”
Your two ovaries are located on either side of your uterus, or “womb.” Each ovary is about one inch long and contains thousands of minute egg cells. After puberty, hormones in your body cause your ovaries to alternately release one egg cell each month. The egg leaves the ovary and moves into one of the Fallopian tubes. This process is called ovulation. This is the time a woman is fertile. The egg cell then moves through the Fallopian tubes into the uterus. The uterus has prepared itself by producing a “nest” — a soft, spongy tissue –blood layer called the endometrium.
Most of the time, the egg is not fertilized, so the endometrium begins to dissolve into a reddish fluid and flows from the uterus, through the vagina, to the outside of your body. This flow is called menstruation, menses, or, your “period.” Menstruation usually begins about 14 days after ovulation. If sperm are present around the time of ovulation, the egg cell is fertilized in the Fallopian tube and then takes seven to 10 days to reach the uterus. By then, the tiny human being has grown into about 100 cells and then implants in the endometrium and continues to grow for nine months.
Things start happening when the pituitary gland under your brain sends a message to your ovaries to produce a hormone called estrogen which causes many of the changes you experience during puberty. For many girls, the first sign of puberty is the “growth spurt,” in which you may quickly grow several inches in a few months. Your breasts will start to develop, although the amount of growth will vary in each girl. Curly hair will begin to grow in your pubic area (between your legs where they join your body), and hair will also grow on your legs and under your arms. Your waist often gets thinner and your hips get wider. A moist, white, yellowish, or clear fluid may collect on your underpants. This fluid comes naturally from the vagina and is called vaginal discharge. This is a sign that you will soon begin to menstruate, or have your “period.” If this discharge is thick like cottage cheese, has a bad smell, or if it itches, have your doctor check it out.
Menstruation is one of the biggest changes that will ever occur in your body. It is a normal, healthy body function. Menstruation is only one part or stage of the menstrual cycle which will return in your body approximately every 28 days. In the beginning, your menstrual cycle may not be this regular; you may only have periods every two or three months.
Your unique cycle may take about two years to regulate itself. The only “normal” thing about it is that every girl is different! Some girls begin menstruating as early as nine and others when they’re sixteen. Each girl has her own “biological clock.” Generally, your first period may start about two years after your breasts begin to develop, and soon after you have some hair under your arms and in your pubic area; vaginal discharge is also an indication that menstruation may soon begin. Menstrual periods usually last three to seven days; but remember, each girl is different. The flow is usually heavier at the beginning of the period than at the end. However, only about one-half cup of menstrual fluid is released during the entire monthly “period.” Your body quickly replaces this lost blood.
You may experience discomfort called “menstrual cramps” during your period, usually in your lower abdomen or lower back. Sometimes you feel a constant dull ache or a “feeling of heaviness.” The cramps may be caused by natural body chemicals called prostaglandins, which cause the uterus to contract in order to help expel the endometrium. To help lessen this discomfort, try taking long walks, swimming, or try deep-breathing exercises; take a warm shower to relax your body; and try placing a heating pad on your abdomen. Menstruation is a perfectly normal, healthy body function, so continue your usual activities (showers, sports, etc.). It’s a good idea to keep track of when your periods start and how many days they last on a calendar. Most teens will go through puberty without problems; but, if you need to see a doctor, you will probably be asked about your cycle. Thats why it helps to keep track.
As physicians, we highly discourage the use of “the pill” or “the shot,” which chemically pollute your developing body and may cause serious physical consequences over time.
The miracle of menstruation may eventually allow you to experience the miracle of conception and birth of your own children! This should occur within the lifetime relationship of marriage in order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases due to multiple partners, to provide the strongest possible union between you and your spouse, and to create a stable home for your children.
There are many types of feminine protection products which can be used once menstruation begins. The two main types are pads and tampons. Pads, or sanitary napkins, are worn inside your underpants (most have adhesive backing to attach securely), but outside your body. Change pads every two to four hours when menstrual flow is heavy and every four to six hours toward the end of your “period,” to avoid developing an odor from the fluid (more often in warmer weather). Dispose of the used pad by folding it, wrapping it in toilet paper or disposal pouch, and placing it in a disposal can. Do not flush it down the toilet. Carry a wrapped pad in your purse or put one in your locker, just in case.
Tampons are inserted into the vagina and absorb menstrual fluids inside the body. We do not recommend tampons for young girls, nor is it wise to wear them overnight. Prolonged tampon use has been associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can be fatal.
We do not recommend douching. Douching appears to change the acidity of the vagina, making it more susceptible to bacterial infection. Your body is capable of cleaning itself if you let it.
Caring for Your Body
Because of major changes in your body, your sweat glands are beginning to produce more sweat than ever. To avoid developing an unp
leasant odor, take a shower or bath every day and after physical activity, such as gym, dance, or sports. After bathing, use a deodorant and, of course, dress in clean clothes.
The oil (sebaceous) glands on your face, back, and chest also become more active during puberty. If this oil blocks your skin pores and combines with bacteria, pimples (“zits”) can develop. Keeping your skin clean is the best way to prevent or lessen pimples; wash your face at least twice each day. Oil glands are also active in your scalp; frequently shampoo your hair to keep it fresh.
Gently brush your teeth, gums, and tongue at least twice each day to keep them healthy. Floss the teeth you want to keep.
Eat balanced meals and exercise every day — try running, swimming, rope jumping, skating, climbing stairs, bicycling, fast walking, soccer, or aerobics.
Celebrate Your Life!
You are in a very exciting phase of your life! Your future, with all of its promise, is just beginning to unfold. You are becoming a woman; you are learning about your own sexuality. Your sexuality, including your fertility, is a marvelous gift, a precious part of who you are as a person. As you are going through puberty and experiencing the onset of your periods, reflect on the incredible ways your body is adjusting into womanhood so that at the correct time in your life, you will have the capacity to become pregnant and bear your children. The proper stable environment for sexual expression is within a loving and committed marriage. This is a time of your life when you must make many important long-term decisions. The mark of true maturity is making wise decisions. By understanding your body and how it works, you will understand yourself and your life-giving potential better.
Recognize the tremendous responsibility you have to protect and save your beautiful gift of sexuality. You can use this gift in the most positive and wonderful ways in a life-long committed marriage relationship.
Rejoice in the gift of your sexuality and protect your virginity until marriage.
“Safe sex” is a deadly game.
Condoms often fail to stop pregnancy and STDs, and they never protect your heart and your emotions.
“Saved sex” until marriage is the healthy, romantic, and smart choice of the Thinking Generation.
You are of incredible value and dignity.
Respect yourself and others will respect you, too!
© 2003 Alabama Physicians For Life, Inc.