Why I'm considering giving my eight-year-old daughter puberty blockers

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

I was the first girl in my class to start puberty. Breast buds and round hips appeared so fast that it felt like it happened overnight – I just woke up one morning and my body had changed. I was nine.

My mum got me a couple of training bras for support (I learned that growing breasts can be painful). I had to do them up around my waist and then pull them up because the contortion involved in doing them up at the back was too much for me.

I was teased incessantly. Boys made a sport out of pinging my bra straps. Girls whispered about me behind my back. Although they would be going through the same thing eventually, being the first made me stand out.

My periods came a year later and brought a whole new level of bullying. Now I had to carry sanitary towels with me. I frequently had patches of blood on the back of my school dress (my teacher wouldn't let me use the bathroom during lesson time) and my bag smelled from used pads, because there were no bins in the girl's toilets.

By the time my friends caught up with me, periods, boobs, body hair and preventing BO were all second nature to me.

Now, many years later, my daughter is facing a similar situation. As she approaches her ninth birthday she is diligently reading Girl Stuff, wearing crop tops under her uniform for support, using deodorant and marvelling at the rapid growth of her pubic hair.

It's too soon. Although she is coping well so far, I am painfully aware what it's like to be first. The teasing has started – the changes in her body shape have not gone unnoticed at school. Are puberty blockers the answer?

Puberty blockers, also called puberty inhibitors, puberty suppressors, or hormone suppressors, are a group of medications used to delay the development of secondary sex characteristics.

They are commonly used prescribed for transgender children who may need more time to explore their identify. However, puberty blockers were originally used as a treatment for early puberty.

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Professor George Werther is a paediatric endocrinologist and Director of Endocrinology at the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne. He says that some doctors might suggest puberty blockers because early puberty can prevent girls reaching their full height potential.

"The earlier puberty commences, the earlier girls have their pubertal growth spurt (stimulated by low levels of oestrogen), but this also means the earlier they close over the growing ends of the bones (epiphyses), leading to reduced adult height," he explains.

"So the earlier puberty starts, the greater the potential reduction in adult height."

So, aside from trans issues, when is it appropriate for parents to seek puberty blockers for their daughters?

Werther says that in his view, puberty blockers should only be used in cases where puberty has started before the age of eight, or in a very short girl, before the age of nine.

"Commencement above these ages are effective in preventing periods but not in preventing early growth plate closure," he says.

Although early puberty has been linked with some mental health difficulties, Werther notes that this is because of standing out from others rather than puberty itself.

"Children and adolescents want to be like their peers, and very early puberty is particularly difficult for a girl, especially having to deal with changes in body shape, body hair, and ultimately, menstrual periods at a very early age," he says.

Werther doesn't think that puberty blockers would be a good option for my daughter.

But he says that any parents who are concerned about early puberty should contact their GP.

Rather than trying to stop puberty, I have decided to concentrate on arming my daughter with good coping skill. If I can't delay the inevitable at least I can support her in getting through it smoothly.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her daughter's privacy.