Puberty is an exciting time in life, often thought of as the path towards young adulthood. At the same time, this new phase comes with many changes and blooming questions.
The typical age where puberty begins is between ages 10-14 for girls and later for boys, around ages 12-16. While these time frames differ for everyone, it may be a shock to your system to find out that your 6 or 7 year old daughter is beginning to develop breasts or just received her first period.
Termed early or “precocious puberty”, this condition encompasses the progression of puberty at a much younger age, usually before the age of 8 for girls and before the age of 9 for boys. Why did this happen and is this a cause for concern?
The symptoms of precocious puberty include any signs of pending sexual maturation before the aforementioned age minimum of 8 years old. In girls, this can be seen as budding breasts, a first period, a rapid growth spurt, and hair growth in the pubic area and underarms. For boys, this is often signaled by a drastic growth spurt, a deepening voice, the growth of facial hair, and the development of a larger penis and testicles.
Understanding the reasons behind your child’s early development depends on whether they have a certain type of precocious puberty out of two possible conditions. It’s also important to understand the mechanisms in the reproductive system responsible for triggering puberty.
There are hormones in the brain called Gonadotropins that are responsible for stimulating the pituitary gland to produce sex hormones (estrogen In females and testosterone in males) to spur on the development of the secondary sexual characteristics.
The first type of precocious puberty is termed central precocious puberty and the cause of this type is virtually unknown in many cases, the process to puberty is simply sped up.
The second type of termed peripheral precocious puberty bypasses any involvement of Gonadotropins at all , rather the condition is triggered by a dysfunction in the ovaries, testicles, or pituitary gland itself which release estrogen or testosterone in the system and spur on puberty.
The issues behind peripheral precocious puberty are either an existing genetic disorder, extra tissue growth in the pituitary or adrenal glands, or the introduction of these hormones from ingested medicine, topical products, or other ointments.
The main risk factors for precocious puberty are mostly out of reasonable control as females tend to pose a higher risk for developing this condition, as well as, being of a certain racial background considering that black Americans usually experience this condition more often.
Certain genetic disorders also contribute to an increased risk factor. However, ensuring your child maintains a healthy lifestyle (obesity is another risk factor) and avoids ingesting or applying products that contain hormones are good practices to abide by.
It’s important to visit your child’s doctor if they experience any symptoms of early puberty to ensure they receive the proper care and treatment for their ongoing development. Also talk with your child upfront about their condition and help them understand the changes their body is going through, while providing continued mental and social support to help ease their transition.