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Reproductive health

Need help with the facts? explains all about periods, pregnancy, and more. You can look at it together with a growing girl.

As a girl grows, her reproductive system will cause lots of changes in her body. Understanding how babies are made — and all the other amazing aspects of a female body — can help a girl feel a sense of pride and control. And learning healthy habits can help her be healthy now and in the future.

Keep reading to learn more about helping girls protect their reproductive health.

Helping girls avoid vaginal infections arrow top

Did you know?

If a girl has pain, itching, or other symptoms around her vagina, don’t try to treat them yourself. She should see a doctor or other health care professional who can figure out the cause and the right treatment.

Signs of a vaginal infection include itching, burning, or pain in or around the vagina. These symptoms could be caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But vaginal infections are not always caused by sexual contact. Common infections that a girl can get without sexual contact include bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.

It’s not always possible to prevent vaginal infections. But you can help lower a girl’s risk by encouraging her to:

  • Wash the outside of her vagina and her bottom every day with mild soap
  • Wipe from the vagina toward the back, not from the back to the front
  • Avoid tight underwear or clothes made of synthetic fibers that can trap heat. (Bacteria grow well in the heat.)
  • Change out of wet bathing suits and exercise clothes as soon as possible. (Bacteria also grow well in wet places.)
  • Change her underwear every day
  • Avoid douching. Putting water or other products in the vagina washes out some of the normal bacteria that help prevent infection.
  • Avoid hygiene products like bubble bath, sprays, pads, and tampons that are scented. They can irritate the vagina and lead to infection.

Helping girls avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) arrow top

STIs are common among girls, and they can cause very serious health problems.

You can help protect a girl in many ways:

  • Make sure a girl knows how a person gets STIs. Explain that she can get an STI through vaginal intercourse or anal sex. She can also get an STI by putting her mouth, hands, or genitals on the genitals or on the sores of someone who is infected. It doesn’t matter if she has sex with a male or another female — girls can get STIs either way.
  • Explain that the only sure way to avoid STIs is not to have sexual contact. If a girl decides to have sex, tell her that she’ll be safer if:
    • She and her partner get tested for STIs
    • She and her partner have sex only with each other
    • She always uses a latex condom (but condoms don’t prevent all STIs)
  • Bust myths. Tell her that douching, urinating, or washing after sex do not prevent STIs.
  • Help her learn about STI symptoms and treatments. You can look at the STI chart together.
  • Make sure a girl knows that not all STIs cause symptoms. Testing is the only way to know if she has an STI. If she’s had sex even once, she should be tested. You can find places that test for STIs.
  • Encourage her to get help right away if she might have an STI. If you think she wouldn’t be comfortable coming to you about an STI, make sure she knows to turn to another trusted adult, like her doctor or a school nurse. 
  • If she has an STI, make sure she knows that her partner should be treated, too. Otherwise, they could just keep passing the disease back and forth.
  • Make sure she has the right vaccines. There is no vaccine to prevent all STIs. A vaccine can help protect against hepatitis B, a serious STI that can cause liver damage. The HPV vaccine guards against some forms of human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. 

Understanding period problems arrow top

Girls can find caring for their periods easier with your help. You can read about period products together. You also can help a girl learn how to deal with PMS through diet, exercise, and medicines.

It’s common for girls to have periods that don’t come on a regular schedule at first. And it’s common to have some cramps or discomfort. But sometimes girls can have serious problems with their periods. These problems include endometriosis, which happens when tissue from the uterus grows outside it.

A girl should see a doctor if:

  • She is bleeding for more days than usual or for more than seven days
  • It has been three months or more since her last period and she hasn’t gotten it again. (Even though periods might not be regular at first, there shouldn’t be a gap of three months between them.)
  • Her bleeding is very heavy
  • She suddenly feels sick after using tampons
  • She bleeds in between periods or with sex (more than just a few drops)
  • She has very bad pain during her period

What is PCOS?

Irregular periods and pelvic pain could be a sign of polycystic (say: pah-lee-SIS-tik) ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition. Other symptoms include acne, weight gain, and extra hair on the face and body. There is no cure for PCOS, but there are lots of ways to treat it. Girls can read about lots of ways to live well with PCOS.


Seeing a gynecologist arrow top

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a girl start seeing a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. That way she can start forming a relationship with the doctor and learning about her body. Whether she goes at that time or not, she should definitely visit a gynecologist or other health professional who can take care of women’s reproductive health if:

  • She has ever had sex
  • She has any of the period problems listed above
  • She has signs of an STI
  • She has stomach pain, fever, and fluid coming from her vagina that is yellow, gray, or green with a strong smell — all of which are possible signs of a serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

If a girl you care about is going for a gynecological visit, you can help.

  • Acknowledge that these visits sometimes can be stressful, and ask how she feels about it.
  • Point out that she’s being responsible by taking care of her body.
  • Help her understand what to expect during the visit. You might tell her that she probably won’t need a Pap test or pelvic exam until she’s 21.
  • Let her know that she usually can bring someone with her to the exam.
  • Encourage her to ask questions and participate in her care.


Content last reviewed January 11, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.