It is important to remember that everybody may have a different experience of puberty. There is a wide range of normal within the puberty timeline, and no two people will develop in the same way, at the same time. However, there is a general timeline of puberty for those that are assigned female at birth (AFAB).
The development of “breast buds” is one of the first signs that puberty has begun. These “breast buds” usually feel like a mosquito bite or a small lump around your nipple and will eventually develop into actual breasts. In the United States, this generally begins around ages 8-13. However, everyone develops at different rates with some beginning to develop earlier or later than others. All breasts are great regardless of size and shape. Also remember that it is very normal for each breast to develop at different paces (aka, one boob might be larger than the other) - this isn’t a cause for concern!
When you start puberty, you probably will notice that you’re getting hairier. Not only will you start to grow more hair on your arms, legs, armpits, and butt but you will also grow some hair in the pubic region. The pubic region includes the labia, mons pubis, and parts of the inner thighs. Usually, pubic hair is slightly darker than the hair on your head. Some people have more hair that goes further down their legs while others don’t - both are totally normal and usually are the result of genetics.
Up to you! Society has unfortunately turned pubic hair for those AFAB into some kind of fashion trend, often putting pressure on people to shave or to not shave depending on what’s “in” at the time. Your body isn’t a trend so do whatever you are comfortable with.
One of the most prevalent parts of AFAB puberty is the production of vaginal discharge, however, it is rarely covered in high school sex-ed programs. Vaginal discharge is your vagina’s very cool way of cleaning itself. It’s natural and nothing to panic about! Some will experience vaginal discharge anywhere within a year before their first period. Vaginal discharge is generally clear or white and is a normal response to increases in hormones. The consistency of your discharge can also represent different levels of fertility. For example, if your discharge is thick then your fertility is low and if it resembles more of a liquid then your fertility is high. Normal discharge can be odorless or have a smell, however, if you experience a drastic change in odor along with burning or itching you should consult your doctor.
The first period is generally around 2-3 years after the beginning of breast development. Although the average age to get your first period in the US is 13 years old, there is a wide range of normal from anywhere between 8 to 16 years old. Many will experience irregular cycles for the first 5 years of having a period. This is common and not something to be worried about! The body is adapting to rapid changes.
During puberty, body shapes change, and the percentage of body fat increases. This is essential and healthy as body fat protects vital organs, stores vitamins, insulates bodies, and allows cells to function. The hips may become wider and the waist may become smaller. Height will also increase with the fastest rate of growth being within the 6 months before the first period. On average, those AFAB grow 2-3 inches a year starting the year their period begins until they reach their adult height.
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that signal important processes like sleeping, eating, and growing. Starting as early as 7 or 8 years old, the body begins to produce hormones that will eventually lead to puberty. Both AFABs and AMABs produce the luteinizing hormone (LH) and the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). For those AFAB, LH and FSH help produce the primary sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal shifts trigger menstrual cycles which can bring about anxiety, sleeplessness, sadness and irritability during your period - this is also referred to as PMS (premenstrual syndrome).
Hormones directly affect your mood. Estrogen, for example, regulates both serotonin and endorphins in the brain. So, it makes sense that during puberty, especially during your period, your mood might be all over the place. This is normal, however, if you notice that your moods might be representative of larger mental health concerns, such as anxiety and/or depression, talk to your doctor or a trusted adult about next steps and proper care.