Not a girl, not yet a woman – what to expect in puberty

Puberty can be a very confusing time in a young woman’s life, especially if you don’t know what to expect! Let’s take a closer look at the changes a female body undergoes in these formative years. 

On a biological level, puberty marks the transition of when a woman can become pregnant and carry a baby. On a physical level, there are visible signs of the hormonal changes at play beneath the surface. As we approach puberty, our pituitary gland produces hormones which in turn will alter the production of sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These sex hormones are what drives the maturation of the female body. 

The first rule of puberty is that everyone experiences it at their own pace and in their own way. Many of these changes are based on genetics, ethnic differences, and even environmental factors. At the end of the day, know that your body is developing as it should be, and if there is any doubt, your doctors are here to help!

Breast Buds

These buds are typically the first sign of puberty in a young woman, which can occur anytime between the ages of 8-13. First, the darker circle of skin around the nipple called the areola will become raised. Then the breasts will continue to grow. As breast buds are growing they can be uneven, painful and even lumpy. At this time some girls may choose to wear a bra or other supportive clothing. 

Photographer: Victoria Aleksandrova/


Shortly after breast buds begin to grow, you will notice hair growth in places you never used to have it. Pubic hair and armpit hair are the most common locations, but many young people experience hair growth in other places such as around the nipples, on the face or on the lower stomach. This hair gradually becomes darker and thicker as puberty progresses. How or why a person chooses to manage this hair growth is a personal choice, and luckily, there are many options out there to choose from. 

Body shape

You not only grow much taller during puberty, but the way your body stores and distributes fat also changes. In young women, you will typically notice a widening of the hips and a generally more curvy appearance. This rapid growth can sometimes stretch the skin resulting in stretch marks. These are completely normal, but daily moisturization and sun protection may help make them less noticeable. 

Photographer: Megan Bagshaw/


The way your skin produces oil changes during puberty. You may notice that your hair needs to be washed more often or that your skin becomes greasy at the end of the day. The increased oil production mixed with hormone surges can also result in acne. Using a gentle daily face wash with a chemical exfoliant such as salicylic acid can help with this. 

Body odor

Body odor is the result of bacteria interacting with the sweat produced by your apocrine glands concentrated in the armpits and groin. Washing your body more frequently can help reduce this bacteria and therefore curb body odor. Some women also choose to use deodorant (which blocks the smell) and antiperspirants (which block the sweat). 


With all these hormonal changes occurring inside your body, it’s no wonder that you may also experience some fluctuations in mood. Many young women experience more emotional lability at this time – you may find that you get angry faster or feel sad when you otherwise wouldn’t. It helps to acknowledge these changes and recognize how it affects you. 

Photographer: Inciclo/

Vagina & Uterus

Finally, the culmination of puberty is when a young woman gets her first period, or “menarche” as we call it. Leading up to your first period, you may experience an increase in discharge, abdominal cramping, bloating, fatigue. It is also normal for your first year or two of periods to be irregular – meaning your periods may occur more or less frequently than once a month and may fluctuate in length or heaviness. For most women, you can expect your first period to occur 2-3 years after the breast buds begin to form. There are many options available to help manage periods – the decision to use pads, tampons or reusable menstrual cups is entirely up to you and does not depend on whether you have had sex or had a baby. 

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