Samantha Moore adopted a proactive approach with her daughters from a young age to protect them from early puberty. She avoided soy products, bought nitrate-free and organic meat whenever she could, and steered clear of heating plastic in the microwave. But her daughters, Grace and Katie, both started their first menstrual cycle when they were 10.
“I believe early puberty is partly genetic and partly a fallout of the environment,” said Moore, who got her period when she was 9. “I also manage 20 figure skating teams so I see girls developing earlier by at least a couple years. It’s a nightmare trying to dress a girls’ team, with everyone at different points on the developmental spectrum. It’s hard to find age-appropriate clothing, especially dresses, for 10 and 11-year-olds who are already a size medium (women).”
Moore also faced backlash from parents and society in general. “Some parents were so judgmental, assuming that early puberty was a result of the way we were feeding our daughters. Society isn’t kind about this issue.”
Another mom of two, Kathryn Stewart, anticipates her younger daughter will be getting her period soon. “My younger one is 9 and started developing breasts in Grade 2. She is very aware that no one else her age has them and feels very self-conscious about it. We talk openly about periods and development happening at different times for different people but she doesn’t like having breasts. For a while, she hated bras but also hated not wearing one.”
An article published in The Guardian in February 2020, stated, “Scientists have found the onset of development of glandular breast tissue has crept forwards by about three months per decade since the late 1970s… The team found that development of glandular breast tissue varied around the world and over time, with studies reporting an average age of onset between 9.8 and 10.8 years in Europe, depending on country and year, compared with 10.1 to 13.2 years in Africa and 8.8 to 10.3 years in the US.”
Citing a research study, the article said the reasons for this trend can be linked to a higher body mass index and the “ongoing global obesity epidemic”. A number of studies have suggested that chemicals in the environment that may interfere with the body’s hormone-based system could also play a role in this trend.
Dr Bhavan Shah, who works at New York Presbyterian Hospital, points to a variety of causes for the early onset of menarche, or the first occurrence of menstruation. “The age of puberty has been decreasing in both gender groups. The completion of puberty is determined by reactivation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. In some cases, even psychosocial issues such as absence of a father, can be a cause. A reduction in childhood illness and childhood obesity are also factors that influence early puberty,” he said.
Stewart’s older daughter started her menstrual cycle somewhat earlier than her peers, at the age of 11. “I did take both my daughters to the doctor when they started developing breasts. The pain and tenderness concerned me a little bit and I just wanted to check that it was all normal but as for the period, I didn’t worry,” she said.
After all, some things are best left to nature.
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