What Is Menarche? - Definition, Age & Growth

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  • 0:04 Defining Menarche
  • 1:03 Age & Development
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Marisela Duque

Marisela teaches nursing courses at the college level. She also works as a unit educator, teaching experienced nurses about changes in nursing practice.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to describe menarche, including the normal growth and development pattern associated with puberty. A short quiz follows this lesson so that you can test your new knowledge.

Defining Menarche

Menarche is the medical term for a woman's first menstruation, commonly known as her first period. Menstruation is the monthly shedding of the uterine wall. Most women can recall the exact details of when this happened and how they felt. It may be exciting or scary for some, but this part of development frequently has an effect on girls because it marks the physical change from adolescence to adulthood. Menarche is a signal that a woman's body is able to become pregnant.

Adolescence can be a difficult time for any person because it is a time of physical and emotional changes. Girls experiencing menarche may feel that they are not normal, especially if it occurs before or after her friends. Every woman develops differently, and it is normal for girls to experience light or irregular periods for the first couple years after menarche. Talking to an adult woman that they can trust, like a parent or aunt, can help girls feel better about their bodies and learn about the changes that lie ahead.

Age & Development

Puberty is a time of rapid growth and development. It occurs when the brain releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This hormone activates the pituitary gland (a small, pea-shaped gland in your head) to release the puberty hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). In girls, these hormones activate the ovaries to produce estrogen. Estrogen, LH and FSH cause changes in the girl's body. Puberty changes in girls include increased height and weight, breast enlargement, weight gain around the hips and pubic hair growth.

Menarche usually occurs about two to three years after the breasts start to develop. According to the Office on Women's Health (2014), girls in the United States usually experience this milestone around age 12, but it can happen anywhere from age 8-15. The exact age of a girl's menarche can vary depending on a number of factors, including race and ethnicity. For instance, African-American girls and Latinas tend to experience menarche earlier (12.1-12.2 years) than Caucasian girls (12.6 years).

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