The following is a review of the physical changes associated with adolescent development.
The Pituitary Gland and Hormones
In both boys and girls, puberty starts with the release of hormones from the pituitary gland – a pea shaped gland located in the brain. Hormones are chemical messengers that allow different parts of the body to communicate with each other. In girls, the pituitary gland sends a message to the ovaries to start releasing hormones called estrogens. In boys, the pituitary gland sends a message to the testicles to start producing the hormone called testosterone. These hormones are responsible for many of the changes associated with puberty.
Ovulation and Menstruation
In girls, hormones released from the pituitary gland send a message to the ovaries – two grape-sized organs located in the lower pelvic region. The ovaries then begin to release estrogens, which in turn leads to the release of ova or eggs – female reproductive cells. This process is called ovulation and it occurs about once every month. Baby girls are born with all the eggs they will need over their lifetime. However, it is not until puberty that these eggs become mature and are released from the ovaries.
Once ovulation occurs, the egg is caught by the fallopian tube that helps to move the egg down to the uterus. The uterus or womb is a pear-shaped muscular organ where a fertilized egg can develop into a fetus. A mother’s uterus is where a fetus grows.
During the month, the endometrium lining inside the uterus thickens. If an egg cell is fertilized by a man’s sperm cell, it implants itself in this nourishing lining in the uterus. A fertilized egg would take about 40 weeks to develop into a baby. However, most of the time the egg will not be fertilized, the thick lining will not be needed, and the lining will slough off the sides of the uterus and out of the body through the cervix – the mouth of the uterus leading to the vagina - and then through the vagina. This process is called menstruation. Although some females may begin menstruation at earlier or later ages, the average onset of menstruation is between 10 – 14 years.
Menstruation lasts somewhere between three and seven days. The blood that flows out of the vagina during menstruation is normally caught with a tampon or a sanitary napkin. As the facilitator of the class, you may want to share samples of these items with your students. (For your convenience, samples of tampons and sanitary napkins are included with this kit.) It is also important to explain how these items work.
Some girls and women may experience P.M.S. or pre-menstrual syndrome. Some of the symptoms of P.M.S. include cramping, backache and bloating. These symptoms can be relieved by limiting salt intake, drinking plenty of water, light exercise (stretching or walking), applying heat through a hot water bottle or heating pad or taking a pain reliever. Remind your students that they should always ask their parents before taking any medication.