Even under normal circumstances, you might be inclined to put off your daughter going through puberty for as long as possible. Unfortunately for you, the exact opposite is happening: Since 1900, the average age of a girl’s first period has dropped more than 3 years, to between 12 and 13, and instances of “precocious puberty” — breast development and/or pubic hair starting at 8 or younger — has been on the rise since 1997. This trend carries more significant risks than you having to explain tampons to a pre-teen, so here’s what experts know so far:
Starting Puberty As Early As 7 Is Becoming More Common
When endocrinologist Louise Greenspan, co-author of the book The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls, first started studying precocious puberty, she expected to find it in less than 5 percent of girls under 8. Instead, she found the number closer to 15 percent.
It Can Happen To Boys …
Boys typically hit puberty later that girls, but are at risk of developing early as well according to the APA. Although some studies have looked at males, a majority of research on early puberty focuses on females.
… But Is More Problematic For Girls
According to a report in The Atlantic, early puberty in girls has been linked to a greater risk of breast cancer, teen pregnancy, HPV, heart disease, diabetes, depression, underage drinking, and having sex younger — so, basically everything you’re already terrified about, but sooner!
Weight Can Be A Factor
A longitudinal study of 1,200 girls between 6 and 8 years old found that overweight and obese girls developed breasts about a year earlier than everyone else. This could be due to the fact that fat cells produce the hormone leptin, which can trigger puberty, experts suspect.
Meat Matters, Too
A 2010 study of 3,000 girls showed that diets high in meat caused girls to get their periods earlier. On the plus side, that means more bacon for you, since you’re no longer at risk for early puberty.
Soy Could Help
Experts initially thought that soy could be a cause of early puberty, but new research from Greenspan and her colleagues suggests that soy might actually delay puberty in girls. Too bad you weren’t planning on bringing that stuff into the house until there’s an actual apocalypse.
What The Hell Are Endocrine Disrupters?
Experts are also concerned that hidden toxins in household cleaning products, cosmetics, soaps, and plastics can cause early puberty by disrupting your kid’s endocrine system, which regulates hormones. The chemicals you need to look out for are known as parabens, which are commonly found in moisturizers, shampoos, and conditioners as ingredients like propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben. These can mimic estrogen way before you’re ready for it … not that you’re ever going to be ready for any of this.