There are plenty of harmless things that make teenagers self-conscious so when something truly tricky – like sexual health – comes along, it’s a rich source of angst-ridden moments. Happily our own memories of such milestones usually fade, but it’s worth understanding teenage development so you can be there to support your child when she needs it.
How breasts grow
The earliest signs of breast growth might well begin while your child is in the last years of primary school. However, the growth process overall will take around four years, with breast changes continuing at other times in life such as pregnancy or when a woman loses or puts on a lot of weight.
How soon the first signs show up varies wildly from girl to girl, depending on when other aspects of puberty begin. However, just because a girl does not show any signs much before her 12th birthday, this does not mean she will necessarily remain flat chested and she may in fact overtake other girls whose breasts started to grow years before hers did.
At birth the nipples and the half-developed milk duct system have already formed but growth at puberty is triggered when the ovaries begin to secrete oestrogen. At first the nipples begin to appear more raised than before as the milk-ducts behind them begin to grow.
Next the flat, circular area around the nipple, called the areola, will begin to develop and then as fat is deposited, the breasts get larger. In the earliest years they will be quite pointed but will become more rounded by your daughter’s later teens.
Differences in your daughter’s reaction
The breast tissue over the first couple of years is very tender and girls who once jumped around care-free may now be cautious about being accidentally bumped in this area. Be discreet and take her cautiousness seriously. If she doesn’t talk about it to you, be protective on her part without making a big deal of it directly with her.
Whilst early growth may not be very noticeable under most clothing, some young girls may get self-conscious about breast growth – especially at first – while others may nag you excitedly to buy them a bra.
If your daughter would rather pretend the change wasn’t happening, be tactful about guiding her to the right clothing choices. Overstretched blouses and too-baggy tops are just as bad as each other. Encourage your daughter to wear fabrics like cotton and jersey as these will be more comfortable now she may be beginning to sweat, too.
If she hates the idea of shopping for a bra, reassure her that many shop assistants have been trained in fitting bras and offer to buy her a cotton bra top to start with, rather than a full-on grown-up item of lingerie. Indeed, many first teen bras are brightly coloured and more like bikinis in appearance, which can help the transition.
If your daughter still wants to put off buying a bra, don’t wait until your child’s school is complaining that her appearance is distracting the rest of the class. Tell your daughter about the time-honoured rule – if you put a pencil under your breast and it holds in place, it’s time to buy something with a cup size! Then let her come to you when she has accepted it’s time to make the move into bra-world.