The timeline and order of events in which a girl experiences puberty isn't the same for every girl. While breast development is the first stage for most girls, 10 to 15 percent of girls grow pubic hair first, and African-American girls tend to begin puberty about a year before Caucasian girls. You might want to start talking about puberty with your daughter while she is in prepuberty -- the phase before puberty actually begins.
Stage One: Breast Development
The average age when a girl begins puberty is 10.5 years old, according to pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Deanna Adkins, but puberty can begin when she's as young as 7 or as old as 13. A study of 17,000 girls determined that Caucasian girls do not need to be investigated for precocious puberty at 7 but that showing breast development before age 7 for a Caucasian girl or before age 6 for an African-American girl could be a cause for medical concern, as this could indicate a malfunctioning thyroid or tumor, says Dr. Adkins. If you have any concerns, contact your child's pediatrician.
Typically, puberty begins with the growth of breast buds. This development is called thelarche. Breast buds are nickel-sized lumps that form under one or both nipples, and they make the breast tender or sore. A girl with developing breasts may feel most comfortable wearing an undershirt or a soft training bra or sports bra. Some girls may notice that one breast is slightly larger than the other, but this, too, is a normal development and is no cause for concern.
Stage Two: Pubic Hair
Some girls grow pubic hair before their breasts begin developing, but for most girls, the appearance of pubic hair is the second stage of puberty. This stage is called pubarche. The hair will be soft -- and at first it may be light in color -- but it will gradually thicken, darken and turn curly. Underarm hair won't start to grow for a few more years.
Stage Three: Growth Spurt
Your daughter may experience gradual body changes throughout puberty, but girls commonly have a noticeable growth spurt at some point. This spurt typically occurs between one and two years after the onset of puberty. The gradual changes in a girl’s body includes the curves associated with womanhood -- her belly, thighs and hips will start to widen and will become round -- her breasts will continue to grow and she'll grow taller. She may start to notice clear vaginal discharge, and she may notice the development of acne, body odor and increased oil production on her skin and hair -- and she may have sexual urges and thoughts.
Stage Four: Menses
Typically, a girl will typically have her first period in one and a half to three years after the onset of puberty. This first period is called menarche. Usually, a girl begins her period at around the same age her mother and sisters started theirs. Her first period shouldn't be painful, and her periods may be irregular for a while. Around this same time, her nipples will become raised and will be visibly separate from the areolae. Her height and breast growth should slow or stop. When a girl starts to menstruate, puberty ends.