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What to Expect When Your Daughter Reaches Puberty

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What to Expect When Your Daughter Reaches Puberty

Jul 02, 2021

A daughter’s first period marks her entry into womanhood. For a lot of parents—mothers in particular—this is also a time of new anxieties and concerns about their child’s health. Dr. Cindy Gellner explains what’s normal, what’s not, and what to expect now that your daughter has had her menarche.

Episode Transcript

So your daughter just had her first period. What's normal, what's not, and what to expect now.

A girl's first period marks her entry into womanhood. It's called menarche. And many parents, especially moms, seem to have a lot of anxiety and questions about it. Many moms readily admit to me that they have forgotten what periods were like when they started. So if something doesn't seem right, they get incredibly nervous that something is wrong with their daughter. Some worry that their daughter has started too early or too late. Actually, any time between ages 9 and 15 is normal.

Some worry that their daughter doesn't have a period every month like clockwork and that they need their hormone levels checked or some sort of treatment to make their periods regular. Well, it is hormones to blame for this. However, it's because hormones are still settling themselves out. It can take two to three years before periods become regular. If there is a family history of irregular periods, they might never be regular. And that's okay too. Parents really worry if their daughter's periods are not regular. But unless their daughter is sexually active or they go months between periods after having them for about a year, there really isn't anything to worry about. Irregular periods by definition happen either less than three weeks apart or more than five weeks between periods. Otherwise, they're normal.

Moms also get concerned about cramps. Sorry, but cramps are part of periods. Your daughter should not miss school or stop being physically active because of cramps. Being physically active has been shown to decrease cramps. I have parents wanting me to write letters so that every month their daughter can miss school during her period. Periods normally last 3 to 10 days. So that's a lot of school missed. I try not to do these letters and instead discuss ways to help their cramps. Over-the-counter naproxen really helps and so does a heating pad.

Some girls will even have nausea or vomiting with their periods due to hormone fluctuations. Treating them supportively with anti-nausea medicines can help.

Moms also get concerned about their daughter's becoming anemic. This does not happen usually. Girls normally lose between 30 to 40 milliliters per period. This is six to eight teaspoons of blood. So while it looks like a lot of blood during a period, it's not as much as it seems. If your daughter has something called menorrhagia, that is excessive blood loss and that is 80 milliliters or more of blood loss per period. And these girls normally pass blood clots that are larger than a quarter. These girls will usually soak through a pad or tampon every hour for several hours during the heaviest portions of their periods. They may also need double maxi pads for protection. If this is the case, then you should talk to your daughter's pediatrician about ways to help.

I often get asked by moms if their daughters could have endometriosis or fibroids or other gynecological issues. As a pediatrician, I can do basic period management and gynecology. I can do oral or injectable birth control to help with periods. But often the best thing for me to do is to refer my patient to a gynecologist if it's more than I can address. They are much better at diagnosing and managing female concerns.

Finally, moms also ask me if their daughters need Pap smears now that they have started their periods. No. That used to be the case, and it's pretty traumatic for a young girl. The current guidelines are if a girl is 21 or has been sexually active for three years, then they get a Pap smear, and that would be done by a gynecologist, not a pediatrician.

Bottom line, most period concerns are actually part of normal development. Your pediatrician can let you know when something is not normal and refer you to a gynecologist who sees teenagers for additional help when needed.