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What to Expect When Puberty Hits

What to Expect When You Have a Girl

Boobies + Bras

When to expect it: Between 9 and 13 (there's a wide range of normal here!)

What to expect: The estrogen that's being pumped into your tween's body from her ovaries causes breast budding—small bumps behind the nipples. Eventually the nipples and buds will get bigger, darker, and sometimes even pointy, becoming rounder and fuller over time. Her boobs will feel a little tender, and one breast may be bigger than the other. Let her know that this is totally normal and won't last forever. It's okay to give her acetaminophen if she's particularly sore. At this stage, you might want to get her a cupless or sports bra to help give her support and protect her tender breast tissue from rubbing against material that might irritate her, says Sherrie Strong, owner of a lingerie store in Snellville, GA.

How to deal: It's going to be hard adjusting to your daughter's new body, particularly if she's filling out quickly and looking more like a woman than a little girl. Try not to make a big deal about it—she's probably self-conscious enough. Tori*, a Frisco, TX, mom of four, simply put her daughter Gabi*, then 12, in a T-shirt to help her get a visual on why she needed a bra. Ally*, a New York City mom, gave her daughter, Carmen*, now 12, a bra heads-up about two years ago. "I just treated it like getting broccoli," says Ally. "When we went to Target, I'd say, 'Hey, pick out some bras you like and throw them in the basket.' Now she loves them so much she sleeps in them."

Tori had a hard time finding a bra that fit Gabi properly. Eventually a friend who works at Victoria's Secret offered to measure her daughter so they'd know exactly what size to buy. Getting fitted is a smart move; go as often as you would have her sized for shoes, says Strong: "Some girls seem to go to sleep an A cup and wake up the next day a C cup." Wearing a bra that fits well will help protect her from backaches, uncomfortable straps, and stretch marks, which come when the tissue in the breast is unsupported, she adds.

Menstruation

When to expect it: Between 10 and 15, with most typically getting their periods about two years after their breasts start to develop. Many girls also get a vaginal mucuslike discharge about six months before they menstruate for the first time.

What to expect: She's likely to have all the symptoms you have when you get your period: backaches, cramps, acne, PMS—the works. Don't expect it to be regular at first—it can take as long as two years before she'll establish a cycle.

How to deal: My talk with my mom about menstruation went something like this:

Me: "Mommy? We learned about periods in health class today. The teacher said we should get this kit. It comes with books and pads and stuff."

My mom: "Okay."

That was it. I don't want this for Mari and her 6-year-old sister, Lila, and you probably don't either. If you haven't already, tell your tween what will happen. No need to get all technical about it, just say, "Every girl's reproductive system—the part that helps your body make babies when you're a grown-up—is going to start working. There will be blood. You are not going to die. It's natural and normal. It'll be yucky. And sometimes your tummy will hurt. And you'll have a really bad attitude. But it happens to all of us."

One way to start the discussion might be the way Tori did: when her girls discovered her pads and tampons in the bathroom. "My motto is if they ask, I'll answer the best I can. I did tell them how to use pads, and that they'd get cramps, backaches, acne, and all that good stuff." Though my mom wasn't nearly as communicative, the kit she eventually purchased for me certainly helped prepare me for what was to come. I also remember thinking it was incredibly cool to have my own stash of stuff. You can buy some kits online—the Dot Girl's First Period Kit (dotgirlproducts.com) and the Petite Amie My First Cycle Kit For Girls (mypetiteamie.com) come with pads, tampons, and booklets for less than $25 apiece—but it's pretty easy to make one on your own for much less. Check out the Kotex and Tampax websites; they're full of information you can print out and put into a cute cosmetics bag with pads and tampons. You can add other items, too, like a heating pad, pain relievers, and sanitary wipes. 

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