The Female Body

During puberty, a girl’s reproductive and sexual body parts reach maturity. Her hips broaden, her breasts develop and she will begin to have monthly periods (menstruate). These changes won’t happen overnight. They will take a different amount of time for each girl.

Female Anatomy

Female Anatomy - Outside View

Uterus

The muscular organ (also called the womb) in which a fertilized egg implants and a baby grows. When not pregnant, the uterus is about the size and shape of a pear.

Bladder

The organ that holds the urine (pee).

Cervix

The lower part of the uterus. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.

Urethra

The tube through which urine leaves the body.

Vagina

The passage that goes from the uterus to the outside of the body.

Fallopian Tubes

Thin tubes that extend out on both sides of the uterus. Fallopian tubes carry the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.

Ovaries

The two glands, one on each side of the uterus, that produce eggs. The ovaries also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Vulva

A woman’s pubic area. The vulva includes the sexual and reproductive organs on the outside of the body – the clitoris, labia and vaginal opening.

Clitoris

A sensitive pea-size organ that is right above the urethra. The clitoris gets a bit bigger and more sensitive when it’s touched or when a girl has sexual thoughts or feelings. The clitoris plays an important part in sexual arousal and orgasm.

Labia

Folds of skin that cover the clitoris and the openings of the vaginal opening and the urethra.

Anus

The opening from which stool (poop) leaves the body during a bowel movement (BM).

 

Breasts

Breasts begin to grow and develop during puberty. There is no set time that this will start. It is different for every girl. There is also no one size or shape for breasts to be.

Size, shape and nipples

Each person’s breasts will take a different amount of time to become fully developed. When they start and how long they take has nothing to do with the size they will eventually be. While breasts are developing, one breast may be slightly bigger than the other. Sometimes they even out after puberty is over and sometimes they don’t. Either way is healthy.

Breasts can sometimes tingle, itch or hurt a little while they are growing. They will not burst or pop and the skin grows with the rest of the breast.

There are no exercises or creams that can make your breasts grow larger. All sizes and shapes of breasts are healthy and are different for every person.

Nipples are also different for everyone. Most stick out but some don’t. These are called inverted nipples. Even if it looks different, an inverted nipple can do everything any other nipple can do.

Bras

A bra is underwear that provides support to the breasts. You don’t have to wear a bra to keep breasts healthy, but some people find it more comfortable. Some girls prefer to wear a camisole or undershirt instead of a bra.

There is no set time to start wearing a bra. Some girls and women wear a bra only when they are doing sports, others wear one all the time except when sleeping. Bras are made with different size cups for different breast sizes.

Periods (Menstruation)

One of the biggest changes that happen to a girl during puberty is getting her period (menstruation). Having periods means that your body is able to have a baby. A period is when you lose fluid, including blood from your vagina. This is part of a regular cycle of changes that happens every month or so called the menstrual cycle.

Most girls will start this cycle sometime between the ages of 9 and 16. Each girl is going to start menstruating in her own time. Don’t worry if you start earlier or later than anyone else.

The Menstrual Cycle

Females are born with thousands of egg cells (ova) already in their ovaries. At puberty the ova begin to ripen and leave the ovaries one at a time. This is called ovulation.

Ovulation illustration

Each month (cycle) one egg cell (ovum) leaves an ovary and goes down a fallopian tube and into the uterus. If a sperm fertilizes the egg cell, they will join and travel into the uterus. This can happen during sexual intercourse.

The lining of the uterus becomes thick with blood and fluid to help support a growing baby. A fertilized egg (embryo) may attach to this lining in the uterus. This is a pregnancy. If the pregnancy continues, the embryo will grow into a fetus and then a baby.

If the egg cell is not fertilized by a sperm cell, it will dissolve. The blood/fluid lining of the uterus isn’t needed so it leaves the body through the vagina. This is menstruation.

Menstruation Illustration

Most periods usually last between 2 and 7 days, but the length of time is different for everyone. During menstruation, about 4 to 6 tablespoons of blood and fluid leave a girl’s body through her vagina. The amount of blood that flows each day can vary throughout her period.

When girls feel sexually excited, they may also reach a peak called orgasm (when muscles in their vagina tighten and release). This causes feelings of pleasure and relaxation, but this does not have anything to do with how and when the egg comes out.

Absorbing menstrual flow

Absorbing Mentrual Flow

During her period a girl can use pads or tampons to absorb her menstrual flow.

  • Pads attach to the inside of panties with small sticky strips and catch menstrual flow outside the body.
  • Tampons are small absorbent rolls that are put right into the vagina.
  • Panty-liners also attach to panties but are much thinner. They work well for light discharge/flow.
  • There are different sizes of pads and tampons that absorb the light and heavy blood flow. You may need different sizes depending on how things are flowing. Most girls find it easier to use pads at first.

If you decide to use pads, make sure you change them at least every 4 hours each day and again before you go to bed. This will stop odour.

Tampons need to be changed every 4 hours and it is important to choose the absorbency that is best for you. Start with a slim or junior tampon. If a tampon is dry or hard to pull out, stop using tampons for awhile. You can try them again when your period starts to get heavier. Using tampons the right way can prevent a very rare but serious infection called toxic shock syndrome.

Tampons are safe and can be comfortable, but using them can take some practice. When they are put in properly:

  • You shouldn’t be able to feel the tampon at all.
  • It won’t fall out - the muscles in the walls of your vagina will hold it in place until you’re ready to take it out.

Tampons won’t get lost inside you. There is a cervix at the end of the vagina and a tampon can’t get through it. Each box of tampons or pads has a sheet of instructions (with diagrams) that you can read. You should also talk to a parent/guardian, an older sister or an adult you trust about what to do when you start menstruating.

Tampons and pads should be thrown away in the garbage after they are used. Wrap them in some toilet paper first.

?’s about Menstruation

Should I keep track of my period?

Many women like to keep track of their menstrual cycle. It helps them figure out when they will probably get their next period. To keep track of your personal menstrual cycle you can count the number of days from start to end on a calendar. The first day you bleed is day one and the last day before your next period is the end of your cycle. The cycle is usually somewhere between 24 and 36 days in total and can be different for everyone. Each time you menstruate, you can count the number of days. After a few months, it will be easier to tell when your period may be due.

Your menstrual cycle might not be very regular for the first year or two. You might even skip your period for a month or so, and then start getting it again. Sometimes it can take a while for a girl’s body to get into a pattern. Things like illness or stress may also cause changes to the menstrual cycle.

What if you get your period when you aren’t expecting it?

Many girls worry about getting their first period. They wonder what to do if it starts while they’re at school or away from home. If you’re at school, you can:

  • keep pads in a bag or locker.
  • ask a teacher or a friend for a pad.
  • make a pad out of toilet paper or paper towel to use until you can get a pad.
  • a panty liner (lighter, thinner pad) can give you some protection.

What if the blood leaks out of the tampon/pad?

Many girls worry about leaking! On days when your flow is heavy, use a pad or tampon that will absorb more. You can also use a tampon and a pad or panty-liner together if you are worried about leaking. Don’t worry if you do have some leakage. Talk to a friend, parent/guardian, teacher or adult you trust to get some help.

Can you still do all the things you usually do? What about bathing or sports?

A girl who is menstruating doesn’t need to act any differently than she usually does. She can exercise, dance, play sports and take a shower or bath as usual. She can even swim if she uses a tampon.

Feel free to do what you want to do. Menstruation is a healthy part of life. It is nothing to be embarrassed about.

How do you feel during your period? What about cramps?

Before menstruation girls may feel:

  • bloated and puffy.
  • that their breasts are tender.
  • a bit moody or even a little down.
  • lower back pain.
  • cramps (belly pain) before and during their period.

Here are some things you can do to make cramps less painful:

  • Exercise.
  • Take a hot bath.
  • Use a hot water bottle on your lower belly (abdomen).
  • If your cramps are always very painful, you should see a doctor, nurse or visit a Teen Clinic.

 


The information contained in this section of the site is from the booklet Growing Up Okay! 
Reprinted with permission from Healthy Child Manitoba Office, 2013.