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Whether you're a parent who's just noticed some vaginal discharge or blood in your tween daughter's underwear, or a girl who's wondering what on earth is going on down there, it's normal to be worried about these changes. They are, however, just another part of pubertal development. 

Female Puberty: A Timeline

You can expect signs of female puberty, which generally starts earlier than male puberty, to show up somewhere between the ages of eight and 13. It usually starts with breast growth, and you'll also see a growth spurt, some zits, a more curvy body, pubic hair, mood swings, body odor, and of course menarche — the first period. Many girls complete these changes by the time they're 14. It is not at all unusual for signs of puberty to make themselves known among preteen girls, in other words, but you'll want to check in with your pediatrician or family doctor if no signs of puberty are on the horizon by the time a girl is 14. 

Vaginal Discharge: Completely Normal!

Vaginal discharge might be an awkward subject to talk about with your child or your parents, but it's actually pretty neat. Glands found in the vagina and the cervix produce it as a vaginal self-cleansing mechanism (so nope, you don't need to douche, girls!). Normal vaginal discharge is clear or has a slightly white tint to it, and doesn't smell bad. 

Later on, as a girl starts menstruating, vaginal discharge will change throughout the cycle. A clear, slimier, discharge signifies that a woman is nearing ovulation or ovulating, for instance, while the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle usually features thicker, white vaginal discharge. 

Girls start noticing vaginal discharge six months to a year before their period makes an appearance. Rather than it being something worrisome, it's a kind of signal that it's time to start reading up about different ways to catch menstrual fluids and to mentally prepare for periods. 

When Do Girls Start Menstruating?

The mean age at which girls start menstruating is about 13 years. It does depend on numerous individual factors, however, including ethnicity and family history. Studies suggest that it's quite unusual for a girl to start menstruating when she is 10 or 11, but it does happen — and a first period should be your first suspicion if your child (or you, since we know young folks do read SteadyHealth) experiences vaginal bleeding at these ages. One study found that around a fifth of girls begin menstruating at age 12, making that a rather more common experience. 

A Final Word

It's important for young girls to be aware of their body's impending changes before they happen — I'm sure we've all heard stories about girls who were totally freaked out by their first periods, because they didn't know what they were. 

While it's really never too early to explain what puberty is and to learn about it together, by the time the first signs of puberty roll around, it's really crucial that families start discussing what's next so that their daughters are well-prepared and don't think they're really ill or something. 

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