Stages of Puberty in Girls

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Going through puberty can be a perplexing time—both for young people and their caregivers. There is a lot of change happening and it can be challenging to adjust. But with love and support you can get through this process together.

Understanding puberty in girls, including what to expect, is key to helping support your child. Learn about the stages of puberty as well as how to address any unique concerns that may come with it, like their first period, acne, and body image.

Signs of Puberty

Every female develops at their own rate. Typically, puberty begins as early as age 8, but some females may develop earlier and some may develop later. The changes they experience—including breast development, pubic hair growth, and getting their first period—can happen quickly or can take place more gradually.

In addition to hair growth and breast development, you may begin to notice your tween daughter growing taller or filling out in the hips while her waist is getting thinner. Most females will have their growth spurt at a younger age than males do. The biggest height change they will experience usually occurs between when their breast buds emerge and about 6 months before their first period.

After the first period, growth will begin to slow down. Most females only grow about 1 to 2 inches after getting their first period. Growth beyond that is uncommon.

Puberty also can be fraught with emotion and uncertainty. Some young people struggle to make sense of what is happening in their body and may even wish that it wasn't happening at all. Others may be happy about the changes they are experiencing while others may be disappointed that they are developing at a slower rate than their peers.

Try to remain aware of how your daughter is feeling about puberty and look for the right time to start a conversation about it. It is important that they not only feel supported and understood, but that they can ask questions or express their feelings anytime they want.

Tanner Stages of Puberty

Teens go through a multitude of changes as they become young adults. During puberty, their bodies change in a somewhat predictable way. These changes are sometimes called Tanner stages, and healthcare providers use them to gauge if your teen is developing appropriately.

For females, there are Tanner stages for both pubic hair and breast development. Interestingly, these two areas do not always develop at the same time with pubic hair often being the first sign of puberty.

Breast Development

Typically, breast development begins between the ages of 8 and 13. By the time a female reaches 17 or 18, breasts are usually fully developed. In some cases, though, breasts can continue to grow into the early 20s.

The first sign of breast development is a slight swelling under the nipple. These nickel-sized bumps are often called breast buds. They are often tender or sore and may grow unevenly, with one side growing faster than the other.

Over time, this difference in growth should even out. But many adults find that their breasts differ in size, which is normal. As the breasts grow, they also may itch and feel painful as the skin stretches. Buying a bra—especially a "training bra" with a little padding—will help protect the breasts and minimize pain that can occur from getting bumped.

Throughout puberty, the breasts will become rounder and fuller and the area around the nipple, or the areola, may become darker and larger. The nipple also may begin to stick out more.

Tanner Breast Stages

Breast Stage 1: This is the stage before puberty starts. There is no breast tissue and the areola is flat against the chest.

Breast Stage 2: There is a small amount of breast tissue under the areola.

Breast Stage 3: Further enlargement of the breast tissue and areola. The areola is still flat against the chest.

Breast Stage 4: Breast tissue continues to grow and is distinct from the chest wall. The areola and papilla (small bumps of tissue around the nipple) are now raised up from the chest wall.

Breast Stage 5: The areola flattens out again to the curve of the breast. The areola gets darker, the nipple begins to protrude, and the papillae start to develop.

Pubic Hair Development

During puberty, coarser hair will begin to grow in the genital area as well as under the arms and on the legs. In about 15% of girls, pubic hair growth may be the first sign of puberty and may show up before breast budding begins.

Some females also will experience a small to moderate amount of clear or white vaginal discharge about 6 to 12 months before they get their first period. This discharge is normal and is in response to the growing amounts of estrogen in the body.

Tanner Pubic Hair Stages

Pubic Hair Stage 1: This is the stage before puberty starts. There are no pubic hairs at this time.

Pubic Hair Stage 2: There is long, soft, colorless hair near the labia majora (outer labia).

Pubic Hair Stage 3: More pubic hairs start to grow. Hairs become darker and start to curl.

Pubic Hair Stage 4: The pubic hairs become coarser, thicker, and curlier, though they are not as abundant as in an adult. Hair fills the entire triangle overlying the pubic region.

Pubic Hair Stage 5: Pubic hair extends beyond the groin area and spreads onto the inner thigh.

Other Changes and Considerations

As a parent, it is important to be aware of and understand what your child may be going through during puberty. You can empower them as well as decrease apprehension and uncertainty by talking openly and honestly about puberty.

Take time to answer any questions. If you do not know the answer, ask your pediatrician or another healthcare provider. Giving your tween accurate information and supporting them when they are confused or concerned will help build confidence, and even help them appreciate the changes they are experiencing

Menstrual Cycle

While every female is different, most young people get their first period two to three years after their breast buds develop. In the U.S., the average age of the first menstrual cycle is 12 years old. Of course, sometimes it will happen earlier and sometimes later.

Early on, it is important to establish that having a period is normal and that it is OK to talk about it. They should not feel ashamed or embarrassed and should be encouraged to ask questions or bring up any concerns they have.

Once they begin to develop breast buds, it is important to help tweens and young teens be prepared for that first period. Consider giving them a few pads or pantiliners to put in their backpack or locker at school. You also want to be sure they know what to expect so that they are not alarmed or afraid.

For instance, some will have bright red blood on their first period and others will only experience a red-brown discharge. It is important to know that both are completely normal.

First periods may not be predictable; they could potentially be irregular for the first few years as physiological changes continue. Some females experience periods every 21 days and others may go as long as 35 days. Even females with regular cycles may not get a period every month.

Body Changes

During puberty, hormones are also changing. These fluctuations can cause changes in emotions as well as the development of acne. If acne becomes problematic and cannot be controlled with over-the-counter cleansers and medications, you may want to talk to your child's pediatrician or make an appointment with a dermatologist. Having uncontrolled acne can contribute to feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.

Your child also may experience sweating under the armpits and increased body odor. For this reason, most young females begin using deodorant during the start of puberty. Because their bodies are producing more oil and sweat, they may also need to shower and shampoo more frequently.

If your child struggles with daily hygiene or resists showering or washing their hair, gently encourage them to develop a routine that fits with their schedule and commitments. It is important for teens to care for their own bodies, but avoid shaming or making negative comments about their hygiene habits. Instead, encourage them to be proactive when it comes to self-care.

Body Image Issues

Every young person experiences puberty differently. Some kids will be excited to start looking older and others may feel self-conscious and insecure—especially if they are developing earlier or later than their peers. One small study found that females who go through puberty early experience high levels of anxiety and negative body image compared to those who begin puberty at a time consistent with their peers.

One area where your teen may struggle is the expected weight gain that comes with puberty. Not only is their body rapidly changing, but these physical changes correspond with a heightened exposure to cultural ideas of beauty.

Females may feel pressure to be thin or to have large breasts—both of which can set them up for body image issues. This pressure to be thin or have the ideal body is felt more intensely by early maturing girls, making them more vulnerable to perceiving their bodies in a negative light. Weight-based teasing also can contribute to body dissatisfaction.

A negative body image can lead to issues including depression, social withdrawal, and even eating disorders. Research has found that body dissatisfaction is directly linked to disordered eating, particularly among adolescent girls.

From the start of puberty, it's important to recognize that these issues are possible and help build your teen's self-confidence and appreciation in what their body can do rather than how it looks. Instead of focusing on weight or appearance, build your teen's self-esteem by pointing out their character strengths like kindness, generosity, or work ethic.

While it is important that your teen learn to love their body, try not to focus on their development, weight, or appearance. Instead, keep the focus on taking care of themselves mentally and physically.

A Word From Verywell

As your child goes through puberty, it is important to recognize that there will be times when they feel uncertain or confused about the changes they are experiencing. Be supportive, understanding, and compassionate and take time to listen. Doing so allows you to clear up misconceptions about puberty, build self-confidence, and ease concerns.

If you have questions or concerns about how your teen is experiencing puberty, talk to their healthcare provider. They can determine if your teen is growing and developing as expected and answer any questions you have. Likewise, if your teen is struggling with body image issues or appears depressed or anxious about the changes they are experiencing, you may want to reach out to a mental health professional.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical development in girls: What to expect during puberty.

  2. U.S National Library of Medicine. Tanner stages.

  3. Texas Children's Hospital. Breast development.

  4. Mercader-Yus E, Neipp-López MC, Gómez-Méndez P, et al. Anxiety, self-esteem and body image in girls with precocious puberty. Rev Colomb Psiquiatr (Engl Ed). 2018;47(4):229-236. doi:10.1016/j.rcp.2017.05.013

  5. Reel J, Voelker D, Greenleaf C. Weight status and body image perceptions in adolescents: Current perspectivesAHMT. 2015:149. doi:10.2147/AHMT.S68344

  6. Hausenblas HA, Campbell A, Menzel JE, Doughty J, Levine M, Thompson JK. Media effects of experimental presentation of the ideal physique on eating disorder symptoms: A meta-analysis of laboratory studiesClin Psychol Rev. 2013;33(1):168-81. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.10.011

Additional Reading

By Barbara Poncelet
 Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health.