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Puberty advances

Puberty has been moving forward for decades. The average age of breast development – the breast button – has decreased by an average of almost three months per decade since 1977. In Spain, since the pandemic, the Spanish Society of Adolescent Medicine (SEMA) has noted an increase in inquiries for this reason.

In statements to EFEsalut, the member of the board of directors of SEMA, Maria Jesús Ceñalexplains that throughout history the age at which puberty begins has been falling.

According to a study published last year in the magazine Jama Pediatricsbreast development in girls, which is one of the signs of the arrival of puberty, has advanced an average of almost three months per decade from 1977 to 2013.

From eight, it’s normal

“What is described is that the onset of breastfeeding from the age of eight is within what is normal. There are girls who have breasts a little before this age and this sometimes evolves slowly and they have a period like their peers, it is not a disease, it is an advance of the biological clock”, points out the representative of the SEMA, an integrated society in the Spanish Pediatric Association (AEP).

The member of the board of directors of SEMA, Maria Jesús Ceñal. Photo provided

What Ceñal does highlight is an increase in inquiries from girls for the beginning of the breast button since the pandemic. “It is too early to know if this will continue. It may be because families are more attentive to what happens to their children as a result of what has happened with the coronavirus or a weight gain due to confinement”, says the pediatric endocrinologist.

The expert insists that the beginning of the breast lump, called telerchia, does not have to mean the advance of menstruation, since it can take an average of two to five years until it arrives.

When to consult the pediatrician

Ceñal does state that when girls start to develop breast lumps before the age of eight, the pediatrician should be consulted because although there are very few cases, it can be “an alteration in the production of hormones”.

In the same sense, it is pronounced the vice-president of the Spanish Association of Primary Care Paediatrics (AEPap), Pedro Gorrotxategi. Within the child health program, pediatricians see girls and boys at the age of eight and if they detect precocious puberty, they refer them to pediatric endocrinology.

Puberty Pedro Gorrotxategi
The vice-president of the AEPap, Pedro Gorrotxategi.

And it is that, in these cases that Gorrotxategi insists, they are few, the girls could have a height deficit.

The average age of menstruation: eleven and a half years

The period over the years has also been arriving earlier, “a phenomenon that is “normal”, as the expert points out.

Decades ago, for example, the average age of the onset of the first menstruation was around fourteen, but now it has settled in approximately eleven and a half years. It’s not unusual for it to move forward or appear a little later.

A girl observes a menstrual cup. PHOTO EFE/Marta Pérez

Why has the age decreased over the years? The expert attributes this to the better nutritional status of the population in general, but also to obesity, which causes menstruation to come forward.

But it also points to substances used years ago – some no longer in use – in agriculture as pesticides that have acted as endocrine disruptors, with a chemical formula that resembles, in its structure, sex hormones and it could cause puberty to start earlier.

Support families in the process

The fact that puberty and menstruation start earlier does not mean that girls grow less, Ceñal explains, because in these cases, within normality, their height depends on the family size. It also doesn’t mean you’ll have menopause sooner.

The vice-president of the AEPap adds that pediatricians support families in the process. There is time from the first signs of puberty until the period appears to explain to her what menstruation is, the changes in her body and the care she needs to take.

“We reassure the families, so that the girl has a good life, whether she arrives earlier or later. It is what matters most to us in this regard”, says Gorrotxategi.

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