As I noted earlier, the beginning of breast development is a tremendously important milestone in every girl's life. However, it pales in comparison to the onset of menstruation.
Menstruation. Just hearing the word uttered publicly seems to cause some fully-grown women to squirm with discomfort. And yet, it's a fact of life for all of us. As a result, we have the responsibility of making it crystal clear to our daughters that there is absolutely no need to be ashamed or embarrassed about it.
At the same time, however, we have to be realistic. No matter how much information we provide to our daughters, and no matter how supportive we may be, the onset of menstruation (doctors refer to it as "menarche," which is pronounced "MEN-ar kee") is very likely to be a significant source of concern for any girl.
(Just pause and reflect for a moment. When your daughter learns about menstruation, or when she experiences it herself for the first time, she likely will be thinking, "Wait a minute. I'm going to be bleeding? From there? Frequently? For decades to come? And it probably will be accompanied by pain, cramps, and bloating? You have got to be KIDDING me!")
As always, it's crucial for us as mothers to carefully guide our daughters through this unsettling change in life. The best way to do so is by serving as good role models. How we react when the subject of menstruation is raised, and how we react to the onset of our own periods, is likely to be mimicked by our daughters.
Menstruation is truly a strange topic. Even though it's commonplace, it's a taboo subject in the mass media.
Further, whether you realize it or not, even well-educated and well-informed men are completely clueless when it comes to the facts of menstruation. To them, periods are some great female mystery. We need to ensure that our daughters don't perpetuate this misconception that menstruation somehow makes us alien beings.
Clearly, we already have made great advances in that regard. In some cultures in the past, menstruating women were viewed as "unclean" and were segregated from the larger group. We've come a long way since then. But even today, when women are assertive in making their views known or in protecting their own interests, they too often are characterized as suffering from "PMS." We have to work in common cause with our daughters to remove this unfair and unfortunate stigma.
What do I need to know about my daughter's first menstrual cycle?
Typically, a girl's first menstrual cycle is preceded by pubic hair growth. This should serve as a sign to you that your daughter's menstruation is not too far away. Pubic hair growth typically occurs when a girl is about 10 years old. Growth of underarm hair usually follows about 2 years later. Girls have their largest growth spurt during this time period, and menstruation typically begins as well.
All of these developments are the result of new hormones swirling around in a girl's body. These hormones are also a primary cause of the emotional roller coaster that girls experience at this age. You may very well notice an increase in your daughter's irritability, moodiness, and even anxiety. Such reactions can first be seen at age 7 with an initial small rise of hormones,
and then they spike around age 11 when the hormones go into high gear. (When that happens, your previously well-adjusted, good-natured, sweet young daughter may be a little less pleasant to be around.)
These hormones are part of an intricate biological dance within your daughter's body. First, hormones begin to rise from a girl's pituitary gland. These hormones then cause increased estrogen to be produced by the girl's ovaries. Next the adrenal glands kick in, producing androgens. (Androgens are male-like hormones that contribute to hair growth in the pubic region and under the arms.) And finally, growth hormones go into their most active stage.
Interestingly, girls typically have their greatest growth spurt about two years before boys do. If you visit any fifth or sixth grade classroom, you're almost certain to notice that the girls are, on average, taller than the boys.