Hesperian Health Guides

When a girl's body starts to change (puberty)

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 4: Understanding your body > When a girl’s body starts to change (puberty)

However different they seem on the outside, most women's bodies go through the same changes during their lifetime.

Sometime between the ages of 9 and 15, a girl's body begins to grow and change into a woman's body. This is called puberty. Your disability will not prevent this from also happening to you. All these changes are normal and can happen to any girl, whether or not she has a disability.

Here are the main changes you will notice during puberty:

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  • You grow taller and rounder.
  • Hair grows under your arms and between your legs, on your genitals.
  • Your breasts grow as they become able to make milk for babies after pregnancy.
  • Inside your body, the womb (uterus), tubes, ovaries, and vagina grow and change position.
  • Wetness (discharge) starts to come out of your vagina.
  • Your monthly bleeding starts (period, menstruation).
  • You begin to have more sexual thoughts and urges.
  • Your face may get oily, and pimples or spots may grow.
  • You may sweat more, and your sweat may smell different than it did before puberty.

These changes are natural and normal. Changes in your body and in your feelings help you be aware that you are changing into a woman who is ready to have a sexual relationship and who can get pregnant.

Still, puberty can be difficult. You may not feel like a girl or like a woman—your body is somewhere in between.

Whether or not you have a disability, during these years it is important for you to look after yourself, to eat healthy food, and to stay clean during your monthly bleeding. It is equally important for you to protect yourself from sexual abuse.

Sometimes, because of the way people treat her, a disabled girl may pity herself and feel ashamed of her body. She may become submissive, withdraw from meeting other people, and be more dependent on family members. See more information about self-esteem and mental health.


Many of the changes a girl experiences while her body is changing are caused by hormones. These are chemicals your body makes that control how and when your body grows. A little while before your first monthly bleeding starts, your body starts to produce more of the hormones called estrogen and progesterone—the 2 main hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.

Hormones also control when a woman can get pregnant—by controlling when her ovaries will release an egg (one egg every month)—and allowing her breasts to make milk to feed her baby after she gives birth. Many family planning methods work to prevent pregnancy by controlling the hormones in a woman’s body.

The breasts

A young girl's breasts start to grow when she is between 9 and 15 years old. You do not have to be shy or self-conscious of your breasts. They are a sign your body is changing into a woman's body. One of your breasts may start to grow before the other, but the smaller breast almost always catches up. Do not be alarmed if your breasts do not look exactly alike. Many women have breasts that are slightly different in size or shape from the other. And if your breasts look different from another girl's breasts, that's just the way breasts are. They come in all shapes and sizes!

As your breasts grow larger, they become able to make milk for babies after pregnancy. Breasts can be very sensitive. When they are touched during sexual relations, they can excite your entire body, making your nipples hard, and your vagina wet and ready for sex. See information on how to examine your breasts.

Your breasts can also get swollen and sore just before monthly bleeding starts, or your nipples may sometimes hurt.

Once your breasts have grown, you should start to examine them once a month to make sure they stay healthy and do not develop any unusual lumps. Usually a woman can find unusual breast lumps herself if she learns how to examine her breasts. Sometimes a breast lump that does not go away can be a sign of breast cancer. Regular health exams will help you find health problems early.

parts of the breast.
Glands make the milk.
Ducts carry the milk to the nipple.
Sinuses store the milk until the baby drinks it.
The nipple is where milk comes out of the breast. Sometimes they stick out. Sometimes they are flat.
The areola is the dark and bumpy skin around the nipple. The bumps make an oil that keeps the nipples clean and soft.