This post is sponsored by Flo.health; all opinions are my own. Since I had such good reception on my article on how to train autistic girls for their period, I thought I would do a follow-up. This time I want to talk knowing when your child may get her period, and few factors that might affect that.
The Rise and Causes of Early Puberty in Girls
Of course, we cannot chart the exact time or date when your child with menstruate, but I wanted to share with you a few eye-raising statistics in case you think it may be “too soon” to address this issue. The onset of puberty can be as young as age 7. That’s the first or second grade, folks! Not only that but in 2010 CNN reported on a study funded by The National Institutes of Health:
“More than 10 percent of white 7-year-old girls in the study, which was conducted in the mid-2000s, had reached a stage of breast development marking the start of puberty, compared to just 5 percent in a similar study conducted in the early 1990s.”
What’s causing early puberty? Of course, family history of early onset puberty is a factor, but I’m assuming you would not be surprised if this were the case for your child. Here are some other factors that scientists have discovered can be contributing:
U.S. News reported that “in a seven-year study tracking more than 1,200 girls – published in Pediatrics in 2013 – researchers noticed that those with a higher body mass index experienced earlier puberty as measured by breast development than those with lower BMIs. Body fat, it should be noted, releases estrogen, which contributes to breast development.”
- Sugary Drinks
CBS News reported on a Harvard study specifically linked it to sugary drinks: “Among nearly 5,600 girls aged 9 to 14 who were followed between 1996 and 2001, the researchers found that those who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks a day had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who drank two or fewer of these drinks a week.”
- Endocrine Disruptors
Smithsonian.com reports that we are just beginning to study the effects of endocrine disruptors on puberty. These chemicals can be found in BPA, BPS, phthalates, fire retardants, PFCs, pesticides and other chemicals lurking in bath and beauty products, home and furniture products, food, cookware, containers, vinyl, plastics and more may be contributing to these rising numbers. Learn more about the dangers these disrupters post.
Not surprisingly, this one main factor underlies lots of health, medical and physical issues but seems to be contributing to early puberty as well.
Reducing Risk of Early Puberty?
As a mom who lives a fairly nontoxic life, I can tell these items are all somewhere between difficult to near-impossible to avoid, especially for kids! Everything from toys to backpacks to the school lawn can contain a fair dose of these toxins, sugar is in everything and our high-pressure society can be a big strain on kids.
Now, there are far too many factors that affect puberty to say “this is how to prevent early puberty.” I am going to say, however, that making sure your child is not obese, keeping their sugar intake low, reducing toxins in their body & environment, and helping kids manage stress will go a long way towards protecting their long-term health and development. The choice is yours — the burden of this lifestyle is challenging but the rewards are too great to miss in my opinion!
How Close is My Daughter to Puberty?
So now that you know it can happen at any time, I want to share a tool called the Tanner Staging Assessment, or the Tanner Scale, that will help you assess how far into puberty your daughter is right now. You can download a PDF copy here, created by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.
This printable covers in detail:
- Illustrations showing just the body part in stages (breasts or outer vagina) that are realistic and not too detailed – just the facts!
- What pubic hair development looks like
- The 5 stages of breast development and what they look like, front and side
- An additional sheet with characteristic behaviors you can expect
Some other physical changes you can expect for your daughter include:
- Discharge stains on her underwear. You may want to teach her about panty liners. I recommend organic Natracare, like in my review, as they are safer for her. If you haven’t yet, you’ll need to teach her to completely clean her discharge and proper disposal of dirty underwear. (Don’t take it for granted they’ll just “get it”!)
- You may see acne for the first time on your kid. Be prepared. THIS WILL FREAK YOU OUT! You’ll think, “Oh my pure precious baby’s skin, what happened??” It will be upsetting. No one wants or likes acne. It’s one of those “Why God??” conundrums of life 🙂 This is a good time to start a skin care regimen with your daughter.
- Body hair will grow – armpits, legs, and if you’re in my family, apparently ALL OVER YOUR LIP. Really, it’s something of a curse, and if you’re really lucky your leg hair may sometimes appear on your big toe or the top of your foot. Not that I know anything about that… LOL. Either way, if you’re like my kid, you’ll just grab the razor and shave your pits so please teach your daughter what she can and CANNOT shave. (Don’t ask.) (OK, nothing that bad, just some eyebrows.)
- Body odor and sweat will also appear. Oddly enough, I haven’t smelt this for either kid, even Amelia who’s over a year into puberty. Maybe it’s another benefit of a non-toxic lifestyle. It’s really important to make sure you keep those toxic, big name deodorant brands OUT of their armpit/breast area for their safety and protection.
Finding Bras for Kids
This is a crazy discussion because I don’t believe apparel companies have caught up with the fact that a girl can be as young as 9 and fully developed. Petite kids with early development will struggle. Here are my best tips:
- Measure properly. Women’s Health has a good article with what you need to know. You’ll need a cloth tape measure like this affiliate image to really get a good reading on size:
- Avoid department stores. The smallest bra I found was size 34 at every local department store, and they had very few A’s. (This really sucks because I was 32A for MOST of high school!)
- We shop at Justice. Whether or not you like them, they were the only place I found with a large variety of 30’s and 32’s. Well, ok, NOT large variety but a few, enough for my kids at least.
- Start with tank bras. If your kid is not that big yet, go ahead and groom her to get comfortable with tank bras. Or even if she is big, and find hook bras a little weird or off-putting and still can fit one, these are a good choice to get used to bras. We do this for both our kids. If your daughter wears a bathing suit, especially a 2-piece, she can most likely manage a tank bra. Even with sensory issues, we’ve had Zoe accustomed to one for quite a while now.
- Teach her to track her period. One skill that will be very important to your daughter will be teaching her to track her period. If she is not yet up to snuff with calendar skills, it’s perfectly fine to work with her team at school and work this into any functional math especially within your IEP. If your child understands weekly schedules, then you’ll need to teach her about how monthly schedules are a bit different
The Flo App Can Help
Our kids on the autism spectrum tend to be fairly app savvy. Flo is a website and app that can help your child track her period. (It can help you too!) The Flo Period and Ovulation Tracker app is available on both iTunes and in Google Play. This free app tracks your period as well as ovulation. It even has a pregnancy mode! You can even graph your cycle and period duration.
This is not a great tool to organize your teenager and it can help your track period problems. As someone who had an irregular period most of her life, I can tell you that the Flo App would have been a lifesaver in my 20s! As you and your daughter graph her cycles, you’ll know exactly when to visit the doctor for any irregularities or problems. It also helps you track:
- Daily health insights
- Fertility tracker
- You can even subscribe for personalized insights based on your cycle and to provide a health report for your doctor
Of course, the standard Flo app is free and a great way to keep track of your daughter’s period…and even yours!
You can also hop over to Flo’s website for information on puberty, pregnancy, menopause and more. They have articles covering just about any question your daughter might have, such as late period and everything you want to know about pubic hair.
Our Journey Continues
For now, Zoe still seems somewhere in the middle of that chart, and I will be honest – I have delayed training. Lots of “stuff” going on and I hope some of it will be resolved soon.
Meanwhile, allow your child to look at her breasts, touch them and jiggle them while teaching her about them. Soon, you’ll need to talk about breast cancer and self-examination. Whether or not she’s responsive doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she learns to keep them to herself (i.e, no “flashing”). Some kids with learning disabilities may struggle with this so it’s up to you to teach them these are “private” and only for herself, her doctor/nurse, and you when necessary – like on her first bra buying trip.
And please, tell her about her pubic hair! Don’t let her “pull” it. (Yea, they do that. Or at least I did when I was little and IT HURT.) That said, this is her body and she has to be comfortable with it and learn to love it, exactly as it is.
Let her love being a girl!
This is part 2 in my series about autism and girls reaching puberty. See part 1, “Autism & Menstruation: How to Train Your Daughter“, with tips on teaching your child hygiene skills for her period.