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Am I normal? First off, it’s all natural. It starts when changes in your brain trigger the release of hormones in your ovaries

Some say it's the transition from girlhood to womanhood, which is a nice way of saying your body is likely to change shape, your moods may ride a roller-coaster, and you’ll become more aware of who you are as a person.

Whether you end up becoming a mum one day or not, it’s your body’s way of making you able to have babies. As a result, you’ll probably experience more intense sexual feelings for others and you might start masturbating.

The first signs of puberty and when it will start

Puberty can begin extremely early at the age of 8, or very late at the age of 14. When it begins though, you can expect certain changes like growing breasts and hips. You’ll also have spotted some pretty big developments in your V-zone. This is the area of skin running from just below your belly button to between your thighs, that’s roughly in the shape of a V.

For one thing, there may be pubic hair there now – hair that is thicker and coarser than the rest of the hair on your body. And you may have noticed a small amount of vaginal discharge – a clear or creamy liquid with a very slight smell. Don’t worry, this is all totally normal and something every girl experiences. And while these changes may seem strange, they’re happening for positive reasons. Pubic hair reduces friction, so that your intimate skin doesn’t become irritated, while discharge is your body’s way of keeping your cervix clean and your vagina moist, which helps prevent infection.

Another thing to look out for, of course, is your period. First periods are often light, perhaps just a small amount of blood, known as ‘spotting’, or it might be very dark, almost brown. This can happen in a very random way to start with, so you won’t get a clear or predictable pattern to your menstrual cycle right away. Again, this is nothing to worry about, and your periods will eventually settle into a regular routine.

GIF of teenage girl going through stages of puberty

Why don't my boobs look like hers?

The short answer here is: because they're your boobs, not hers. Ultimately, every one of us is unique before, during and after puberty. 

There’s no real way to predict what your boobs will look like or how much they’ll grow. Just like we never entirely know how tall we’ll be or what shoe size we’ll end up with. But there are some indicators about what might happen for you (and when). We look more closely at the ways your body might change over here.

If this does happen, try not to worry. Bigger boobs don’t mean frumpy undies – there are plenty of great bras for fuller busts, and supportive styles that will keep you comfortable whether you’re dancing or doing sport. Typically, you’ll start your period about two years after your boobs start growing.

Moods like a yoyo?

While it might feel abnormal to cry one minute and crack-up with laughter the next, mood swings are totally normal. Your brain is creating new cells and working out new ways of thinking. Brain chemistry is shifting faster than you can send a Snapchat. 

Your emotions may feel like you’re on a merry-go-round that you can’t get off. Make sure you talk to the people you’re comfortable confiding in, and remember your mum/sister/aunt went through it herself, so she’ll understand. 

Keeping your V-zone hygienic during puberty

Having pubic hair and discharge means your V-zone will smell stronger than before, because sweat and bacteria can quickly accumulate in such a warm and damp area. This means a good hygiene routine is really important. Shower daily and wear clean clothes and ‘breathable’ cotton underwear and you’ll always smell fresh and feel comfortable. And once you start your periods, change your sanitary protection frequently, and use intimate wipes to keep yourself clean.

The vagina is self-cleansing so there’s no need to wash inside it (known as ‘douching’). In fact, this can lead to conditions like thrush or bacterial vaginosis, so avoid doing this. You may also find that perfumed soaps, shower gels and bubble baths make your vagina sore, so use an unperfumed soap or an intimate wash.

To keep yourself clean and comfortable, wipe your V-zone after each toilet visit, ideally with an intimate wipe, then use soft toilet tissue to pat yourself dry. Keep your pubic hair trimmed or waxed to keep your V-zone clean and limit the build up of sweat and bacteria. Wear a panty liner every day, such as Bodyform DailyFresh liners, to keep the area fresh and protect your underwear.

Talking is time well spent

• ‘I think I smell bad’, ‘Why am I always angry’ or ‘Why are my nipples sore?’. No question is too dumb or too weird when it comes to puberty, and you won’t be the first (or last) person to have asked.

• Choose someone you trust – your mum, your dad, your best friend, a relative who’s been where you are. The help you’ll find from talking about your worries, however big or small, will be totally worth it. 

• From the serious to the hilarious, sharing goes a long way in making you feel better. There are also books and things on YouTube to help if you’re not ready to talk yet. There’s always the option of writing a note and putting it under a parent’s bedroom door, if you want to share stuff but feel too embarrassed to say it face-to-face. And remember, we’re here to help you through all the highs and lows.

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