Discussing bodily changes with young women

Parents to preteen and teenage daughters may have many things on their minds as their children grow older. Young women entering puberty are entering periods marked by unique physical changes, and families may find themselves facing the topic of menstruation and family life before they know it.

The Canadian Women’s Health Network notes that research indicates a gradual decline in the average age of puberty onset in North American women, with menstruation occurring earlier and earlier. This may be attributed to decreased rates of disease and increased nutrition. Sandra Steingraber, a medical researcher who has done groundbreaking work on the links between environmental health contaminants and cancer, says puberty also may be tied to environmental changes, namely exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Puberty-related physical changes may now occur in girls as young as 8 or 9. ObGyn.net says that the average age for menarche, or first menstruation, in the United States is age 12.16 for black girls and 12.88 for caucasian. Among Canadian respondents aged 14 to 17 in the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, the mean age at menarche was 12.72 years.

Parents and young women between the ages of 10 and 15 should realize that menarche and menstruation in general is a critical mark in the reproductive life of women and should prepare for its arrival. Menstruation is part of a cycle of reproduction that occurs when the uterine lining of blood and tissue leaves the body because it is not needed to cushion a fertilized egg. A menstrual period generally can last between two and seven days, and during, an average amount of two tablespoons of blood is shed. An entire menstrual cycle for girls and teens ranges from 21 to 45 days, offers Kids Health.

Each girl is different, but menstruation generally occurs within two to four years of other signs of puberty, such as breast budding and growth of underarm and pubic hair. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that teenagers schedule a first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15, particularly if menstruation has started. A gynecologist can be a good sounding board for questions regarding what is normal, what to expect in years to come, and general health concerning the female reproductive system and body — including breast health. A gynecologist will also spell out the ideal times for certain testing, which can include pelvic exams, external genital exams, and Pap tests.

Menstruation can be an exciting, yet confusing time in a young woman’s life. Since many young women now experience menstruation earlier than their mothers may have, families may want to discuss puberty with their daughters sooner than they might have initially planned.

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