As a fellow mom of two (older) girls, I understand the importance of discussing menstruation with our daughters. It’s a natural and normal part of growing up, but it can be challenging to know when is the best time to have this conversation.
The median age for girls to have their first period (menarche) in the United States is around 12–13 years old, although the age can vary from around 8–16 years old. Several factors influence the timing of a girl’s first period, including socio-economic status, body mass index (BMI), nutrition status, access to preventative services, and ethnicity. For example, research has shown on average that girls from lower socio-economic backgrounds and certain ethnic groups tend to start their periods earlier than girls from higher socio-economic backgrounds and other ethnic groups. Additionally, girls who have a higher BMI may start their period earlier than girls with a lower BMI.
Start the Conversation Early
The goal is to start the conversation early and build a foundation of open communication so your daughter feels prepared and supported to navigate the physical and emotional changes of puberty. Nobody knows your daughter better than you, so paying attention to her behavior and needs and trusting your intuition can help you determine the appropriate time to initiate these conversations.
It is normal for your daughter to feel shy or uncomfortable when discussing puberty and changes in her body, so acknowledging and normalizing these feelings can help put her at ease. Being sensitive to her feelings, creating a safe and supportive environment to ask questions, and approaching the conversation in a way that makes her feel comfortable are essential. For most girls, this will mean creating a private space for conversation. You can do this by having a one-on-one conversation in a quiet room, going for a walk, or driving so you can talk without distractions. You can also use age-appropriate books or videos to introduce the topic which can help her feel more comfortable and provide a starting point for further discussion. Having these conversations can be an ongoing process, so it’s okay to have multiple conversations over time as her understanding and curiosity about puberty and menstruation evolve.
Staying in tune with your daughter’s behavior and conversations will help you identify signs that she may be ready to talk about puberty and her period. Common signs to look for include:
- Asking questions about puberty
- Showing an interest and being curious about her own body changes
- Having conversations with friends or siblings about puberty
- Seeking privacy, especially when bathing/showering could be a sign that she is becoming more self-aware and ready to discuss personal topics
- Changes in behavior, such as being more moody or emotional could indicate she is experiencing hormonal changes associated with puberty
Signs Your Daughter Is Starting to Mature
Tanner Staging, also called the Tanner Scale or Sexual Maturity Rating, is a system that measures the sequential physical changes associated with puberty. It can be helpful to identify the signs that your daughter is starting to mature as these are clues that she is getting ready to start her period. (Of note, there is a separate Tanner Scale for boys.)
The Tanner Scale has five stages.
- Stage 1: Prepubertal
- There are no physical signs of puberty, and her breasts and pubic hair have not started to develop.
- Stage 2: Breast Budding
- She will start to develop breast buds, which are small, tender lumps under the nipple. Fine, straight pubic hair starts to grow.
- Stage 3: Pubic Hair Growth
- Her breasts will continue to develop and become more rounded, and her pubic hair becomes coarser and curlier.
- Stage 4: Further Development
- Her breasts become fuller and more mature, and her areola (the darker skin around the nipple) becomes more raised. Pubic hair may start to grow on her thighs.
- Stage 5: Adult
- In the final stage, her breasts and pubic hair have reached their full adult size and shape
The timing of her first period can vary, but on average your daughter’s first period will start around two to three years after the development of her breast buds. Her first period will most likely occur after Tanner stage III and by Tanner stage IV. It’s highly unlikely to occur before Tanner stage III. Most (98%) girls will have started their period by the time they reach 15 years old.
Each girl develops at her own pace and different factors influence the timing of her first period. Each girl is unique, so she will benefit from a different approach and timing when discussing puberty and menstruation. Monitor your daughter’s physical and emotional development and discuss any concerns you may have with her healthcare provider.
Moms, you’ve got this!
About the Author
Carol Rademeyer is a highly regarded Advanced Practice Registered Nurse with a wealth of experience in women’s health. With over 25 years of professional practice and a Master of Science Degree in Midwifery from the Midwifery Institute at Philadelphia University, she is a respected expert in her field. Her rigorous academic and professional background has earned her board certification in her specialty, and she has fulfilled the requirements in Florida for Autonomous Practice as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.
In addition to her clinical practice, Carol has also made significant contributions to the broader medical community. She has been published in several prestigious medical journals and has been a speaker at the national conference for the American College of Nurse Midwives, where she has shared her expertise and insights with her peers.