I didn't see this coming
So Your 9-Year-Old Has Breast Buds? Don’t Panic.

A guide to tackling this new stage of life with your child.

by Vanessa Kroll Bennett and Cara Natterson, MD
Portrait of young girl in backyard
MoMo Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The first time parents notice their daughter has breast buds can be really jarring. Wait, isn’t that supposed to happen in two or three years? Is there something wrong with her? Where has my little girl gone?

Research shows that girls are entering puberty at least two years earlier than they did a generation ago, which means that these days the average age for breast budding is sometime between eight and nine-years-old.

There are many theories as to why girls are developing earlier than they used to, but the short answer is that we don’t really know. While it’s important that we do figure it out — the food we eat? The products we put into and onto our bodies? The stressors of life? A combination of all of the above? — our most immediate concern is caring for the kids in our lives.

The moment a parent notices their nine-year-old daughter’s newly 3D chest, why doesn’t necessarily matter as much as how we react.

The very first step is to remember that it’s perfectly normal. Sometimes breast buds develop on one side before the other; sometimes a bud seems to appear and then disappear; some breast buds are super tender and sore. And if all of this isn’t inconsistent enough, sometimes nine-year-olds don’t have any breast development — some breasts don’t begin budding until 12 or even 13. If you have any worries about this or any other newly appearing feature on your kid’s body, speak with your healthcare provider.

But in the meantime, here are some things to remember to help you support your child:


They’re not the only one

You might not be emotionally prepared for nine-year-olds to have breast buds, but it is perfectly normal. Just as in so many other corners of the world of parenting, our experiences are not their experiences.

This is especially true for puberty: your timeline will almost certainly not be their timeline. Reading some recent research, or even just looking around at classmates, will reassure you of this fact.


They’re still young

It’s easy to confuse the way a child looks with their chronological age. We’ve all accidentally babied a kid who looks very young for their age or done the exact opposite, incorrectly assuming a level of maturity in a kid who looks particularly old. As the onset of puberty has marched earlier and earlier, girls especially look older.

But they’re still young — chronologically and mentally. They may still love imaginary play or cuddling while watching an old (almost certainly animated) movie. It’s our responsibility to treat kids according to their chronological age, because that’s emotionally and socially appropriate. Do your best to avoid falling into the trap of treating a more mature-looking kid as if they are more mature.


Freaking out won’t help

While openness and honesty within a family can be massively valuable, this is a great moment not to share all of your feelings.

Some parents are surprised and maybe even scared to see the beginnings of puberty. It marks the start of a path to sexual maturity and that feels incomprehensible. If you’re going through this thought process, discuss it with other adults — privately and not in front of your kid.

If your kid is feeling OK about their changing body, the last thing you want to do is rock the boat with your baggage. If they’re feeling worried or confused, you definitely don’t want to add your crap to their worries.


How to start the conversation

The goal is to validate your kid, open the door to ongoing conversations, and give them little snack-size pieces of information.

It might sound something like this: Is your clothing feeling comfortable these days? Is there anything new you’d like to try? I’ve noticed that some kids in your class are wearing camisoles or bras — is that something you’d be interested in?

Sometimes you need to be more direct, because there is basic information your kid needs to learn from you. Things like: I’m not sure if I told you this, but it’s normal for breasts to grow only on one side or the other at first. You may have noticed this: underneath your nipple is something called a breast bud and it might be a little sore. That’s totally normal! Some people may have breast buds and some may have nothing yet. Both are ok.


Love and support is always the answer

You might get some tough questions from your kid:

Is something wrong with me?

Is this weird?

Do I have cancer?

Can we make it stop?

If you’re not sure how to respond, try gently asking questions in return, like: What makes you say that? Where did you hear that information?

These will help reveal the source of the feelings. Don’t assume you know where these questions are coming from — remember, their experiences are not your experiences.

Some loving and supportive ways for your kid to feel heard without giving them false or misleading information include responses like: It’s normal to feel confused. Let’s reach out to your pediatrician to check in. I don’t have all the answers but I’m always happy to hear your thoughts.


Body changes happen way before relationships and sex

The onset of puberty and the onset of active sexuality are on two very different time frames, especially as the start of puberty has moved earlier.

Your nine-year-old is still your nine-year-old, so keep doing what you’ve always done to have fun together. Breast buds don’t change the fun of running around or snuggling before bed.

If you start backing away from your kid, cease being affectionate or distance yourself because of her changing body, she may internalize your discomfort and feel rejected, which is the last thing you want her to feel.

Even though our culture often characterizes pubescent girls as the most terrifying beings on earth, it’s our job as parents to push back on that narrative. Yes, things get more complicated. Yes, mood swings are a real thing. Yes, changing bodies can be confusing. But ultimately, our responsibility is straightforward: to keep our kids’ safe and healthy, and to make them feel loved.

Cara Natterson, MD and Vanessa Kroll Bennett are co-hosts of The Puberty Podcast. Cara is a pediatrician and author of the bestselling puberty books The Care and Keeping of You Series and Guy Stuff. She is also the founder of OOMLA, a company designed to make puberty comfortable. Vanessa is the founder of Dynamo Girl, a company focused on building kids’ self-esteem through sports, puberty education and parent workshops. She writes regularly in her Uncertain Parenting Newsletter about the messy process of raising tweens and teens. You can follow them on Instagram @thepubertypodcast.