When an eight-year-old girl develops breasts, it can be horrific, especially when the reality that her development is ahead of her agemates kicks in. If not handled well, it could have psychological implications. Lydia Kisakye, a mother, shared her experience with Maureen Nakatudde.
I was watching my eight-year-old daughter dress one morning when to my horror, I noticed she was developing breasts. I started to wonder if she was abnormal. Confused, I went back to the bedroom and discussed it with my husband. He too was totally taken aback.
“That is impossible!” He exclaimed. He had to see for himself when Jennifer wore a tight blouse.
I compared her to myself at the same age. I started developing breasts at the age of 12. I frantically called a friend whose daughter was the same age as mine and explained my predicament. She too was surprised since hers had not developed breasts.
My husband suggested that we take our daughter to the hospital. I instead chose to call my gynaecologist, who assured me that there was nothing wrong with my daughter, she was only developing quickly.
This drastic change forced Jennifer to grow up fast, taking herself so seriously for her age that I had to coax her to play with her younger siblings. I had bought her a bra, and explained its use to help her cope.
But my woes were far from over: I suffered ridicule at the hands of nosy neighbours and relatives, who when they visited, suspiciously asked how old Jenny was. Not many believed me when I told them she was eight.
While she remained active at home, at school, Jenny was reserved. Sometimes she came home from school and went straight to her bedroom. I pressed on several occasions to know what the problem was, but she would not talk about it.
Only when she had grown up did she confess that there were some mean children at school who always made rude comments about her breasts.
Today Jennifer is a beautiful, confident young woman. I encourage mothers to continue treating their children like kids not adults, when they develop their breasts early: That way they will not feel different.
Causes of early breast development
Sabrina Kitaka, a paediatrician at Mulago hospital, says breast development is normal for a girl. “It just means she has had early puberty. In most of these children, the process is normal in every respect, except the unusually early age, and simply represents a variation of normal development.” Kitaka also says that proper feeding can accelerate puberty in children.
Fred Mukasa, a gynaecologist, attributes early breast development to hormonal changes. “If a girl has a lot of estrogen, there are higher chances that she will have early breast development,” he says.
Some children have early breast development due to exposure to endocrine chemicals, in particular phthalates, from cosmetics, toys and plastic food containers. He adds that early breast development can be genetic.
“If the mother developed breasts early in life, chances of the same happening to the child are high, in which case it is prudent to prepare the child,” he advises.
Some people worry that if children have early puberty then it will slow down their general development. But studies show that it is not a cause to worry.
However, if a girl does not have breast buds at the age of 14, it is advisable that she sees a doctor.
Though early breast development poses no cause for anxiety, it definitely has an effect on the person.
Edward Peter Basembeza, a head teacher at Mother Majeri Primary School, says girls whose breasts develop early sometimes miss out on interesting games for fear of being exposed. “It will be very hard to urge such a child to go for physical education,” he says.
He adds that if a school or a home does not care about self-respect, that child will suffer psychologically. She will often be called nicknames and insulted by both children and some teachers. At times, these girls are at risk of defilement because they appear older than their age.
Ruth Senyonyi, a counsellor with Bank of Uganda, says breast development will automatically affect the child’s self-esteem if they are not talked to. “Most children want to look the same as their age mates and if they see that something is different, they will question it and imagine that something is wrong with them,” she explains.
What to do
Kitaka advises seeking help from an adolescent health expert on how to counsel the child as she goes through the process of acceptance.
Senyonyi counsels that the best way to help the child is to communicate with them. “Tell them that it is okay to be who they are and that she is unique and therefore does not have to be like the other children,” Senyonyi says.
Open communication will encourage her to tell you what happened and at school, and if it is negative you can counteract it with a positive affirmation.”
Furthermore, both parents and teachers should make the child understand that it is a change that can happen to everybody. They should strive to make the child as comfortable as possible.
Parents should encourage girls to wear bras or bob tubes, these will help them feel better.
My breasts came in p.3
At first, I did not mind about the changes because nobody noticed me, but the physical education class was my major problem. We would all be expected to strip down to our underwear. I was afraid that they would discover how different I was. Worse still, other pupils stared at me and I grew to hate the class.
When Primary Three was over, I was glad that I would no longer go through the same ordeal. But in Primary Four my breasts grew even bigger. This meant that they could be seen easily. I tried to disguise them by wearing sweaters but it did not help. Children started referring to me as beere ddene (the one with big breast). I also never involved myself in any sport for fear of my big breasts. I hated the breasts and constantly wished they could disappear.
At school, one male teacher even insinuated that I was ready for sex since I had big breasts. That hurt me because I was the same age as my classmates. My neighbours pitied me. They made it sound like it was the unluckiest thing in the world to happen to anyone.
Men started to make passes at me. In taxis, while my age mates never paid for fares, the taxi touts would argue with my mother that I was already a woman. “Look at those breasts!” They would shout, “that is a woman and you don’t want to pay her fare!”
In my village, a young man started hitting on me, thinking I was an adult. My mom hunted him down and told him to leave me alone. I told my mother how I felt, but she assured me all the girls would have to develop breasts at some point in their lives. Just because I had them earlier, it did not make me old.
When I joined secondary school, I was not alone; there were other girls who had big breasts but one particular girl taunted me so much that I almost failed to study. However, my friends advised me to ignore her.
Looking back, I wonder why I even worried about the size of my breasts. Today some women pay heavily for the size of breasts I have. Moreover, even after breast-feeding my four children, my breasts are still surprisingly firm.
As told to Harriet Birungi