What Is Precocious Puberty?

What is precocious puberty? How does it affect girls?

Precocious Puberty Defined

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Precocious puberty is defined as the onset of true puberty before 7 to 8 years of age in girls or 9 years of age in boys. (Isolated breast development which doesn’t progress to the rest of puberty is called premature thelarche, and is a different, benign condition). Precocious puberty is 10 times more common in girls than in boys.

Sexual development may begin at any age. Pregnancy has been reported as early as 5 1/2 years old.

Most precocious puberty is simply early maturation. Nevertheless, the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society recommends evaluating for an underlying medical condition in Caucasian-American girls who have development of breast and/or pubic hair before age seven and in African-American girls before age six (Kaplowitz and Oberfield, Pediatrics 1999 Oct;104(4 Pt 1):936-41). These medical conditions include tumors, ovarian cysts, thyroid problems, McCune-Albright syndrome, or external sources of estrogen. Looking into these causes is especially important in girls younger than 6, and in all boys. In girls over age 6, these other causes are quite rare, but should at least be considered.

Early maturation in girls is categorized in two main types: rapidly progressive and slowly progressive. Most girls who begin puberty early (especially those who begin before age 6) have the rapidly progressive variety. They go through each of the stages (including closure of the growth plates of the bones) at a very rapid pace, and thus lose much of their adult height potential. About 1/3 of these girls will end up shorter than the 5th percentile of adult height.

Many girls, however (particularly those beginning puberty after their 7th birthdays), will start puberty early, but still go through each of the stages at a more typical pace. While their “adolescent” growth spurts are over early, they will continue to grow until their bones reach final maturity at about age 16.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Alexis

    Hello,
    My daughter will be turning 8 in a couple weeks. I noticed that it may be time to purchase her deodorant because after she comes home from school, she has a slight odor, nothing offensive but I can tell if I lay next to her or something. I was also trying to figure out if she needs a training bra because she is a little chubby but I wasn’t sure and then last night, I discovered that she is starting to grow pubic hair. So, I’m guessing she is already showing signs of puberty then? I’m just a little surprised because she seems so young, but starting around 8 is normal? I think it just got to me because she hasn’t quite hit 8 yet. Should I contact her doctor and ask him about this?

    Is this normal for a child going on 8?

    Thank You.

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    • Dear Alexis,

      Puberty is starting younger and younger. It’s jarring for all of us.

      It sounds like this would be a great time for her to have a physical and some education about her changing body and sex. It doesn’t seem right to need to talk to kids this young about sex, but it’s important not to leave her in the dark.

      Hope this helps,
      @MsGreene
      Co-founder and Executive Producer, DrGreene.com

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  2. Julia

    Hi,
    While my daughter does not have physical puberty signs, she is 6 and she has strarted masturbation and is doing it regularly. When her grand mother asked her what she was doing, she answered I am doing something that make me feel good.

    She is also very aware of boys around her.

    Is it normal?

    Thank you

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