When Your Child Enters Puberty Early
If your daughter is showing signs of puberty earlier than you did, don't be alarmed.
"There is some evidence we're seeing breast development and pubic hair in girls at a younger age than 30 years ago, when any development before age 8 was considered abnormal," says Paul Kaplowitz, M.D., author of "Early Puberty in Girls: The Essential Guide to Coping with This Common Problem" and chair of the department of endocrinology and professor of pediatrics at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Boys, however, are not starting puberty early -- anytime after age 9 is within the normal range.
Why Is This Happening?
The average age of the appearance of breasts or pubic hair in girls is age 9 for African-American girls and 10 for Caucasian girls. However, today it's not unusual for girls to begin showing signs of development much earlier, as early as age 6 or 7.
"There's no single answer as to why girls are entering puberty earlier but the increasing prevalence of obesity is likely contributing to early breast development, pubic hair, and body odor," Kaplowitz says.
As a rule, girls who are thinner and more athletic enter puberty later. Maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle and setting a good example for your child may help keep weight and development in check.
While the start of puberty at a young age can be alarming for parents, the great majority of kids need limited or no medical intervention, says Kaplowitz.
Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Early pubic hair without other signs of male hormone excess is rarely a serious health concern.
- Breast development under age 3 is not uncommon and rarely progresses to full-blown puberty. Physicians call this "premature thelarche."
- Early pubic hair and body odor between the ages of 6 and 8 is a common normal-growth variation. Physicians call this "premature adrenarche" and it requires no treatment, Kaplowitz says.
- Breast development starting between ages 6 and 8 can sometimes be due to a condition called "true precocious puberty." In most cases no cause is found but it can be caused by a tumor near the pituitary gland in about 2% of cases. Medications given by injection are available to slow rapidly progressing puberty.
- What might look like developing breasts could be fat tissue. A physician can evaluate accurately if there's firmness under the nipple, which usually indicates breast tissue.