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When Does Menstruation Begin?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Shari Nethersole, M.D.

Q: When does a kid get her period? She is already 12 and all she has is yellow discharge.

A: The age at which a girl will start to menstruate is quite variable. Some girls start as early as 9, others not until 15 or 16. The pattern of body changes leading up to menstruation is very specific and predictable though, and this can help you estimate when she will start to have her periods. The first pubertal change is the development of breast buds: a small amount of breast tissue under one or both nipples. The breasts then get larger, with the areola (the area around the nipple) protruding as well. It is approximately two years from the time the breasts begin to "bud" until the time the periods start. The other thing that happens during this time is the adolescent growth spurt. It usually occurs shortly after the breasts have started to grow. Girls will often grow many inches in a few months during this growth spurt. The other change that is notable is the development of pubic hair. This usually starts after the breasts begin to bud, though in many cases it can start first. Once a girl has a "triangle" of pubic hair and noticeable breast enlargement, it is likely that menstruation will follow soon. Many girls will get a small amount of vaginal discharge in the six months before the periods start, and this is another sign that it is about to start.

It is important to make sure that you have specifically talked with a young girl before this all happens. The changes in one's body that occur during adolescence can be very disturbing to young girls and it helps tremendously if they know what to expect, and know that they can ask questions as the changes occur.

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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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