The first gynecological visit, why the visit is important, and how to choose a healthcare provider.
For many parents of young women, the question of when their teen needs to start seeing a gynecologist can spark uncertainty. As young women grow up, it’s important that they receive proper health care.
Yearly checkups, starting between the ages of 13 to 15, that focus on the female reproductive system are recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). These are often called well-woman visits and they can catch small issues before they become big ones. This age recommendation is because of the fact that, according to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “less than 10% of US girls start to menstruate before 11 years, and 90% of all US girls are menstruating by 13.75 years of age, with a median age of 12.43 years.”
If a teen girl is sexually active, we encourage parents to bring their daughters in as soon as possible to get safe sex education, STD testing, get an early pap smear and get an HPV vaccine, if she hasn’t already. We have an amazing staff of female nurses who know how to make young patients feel comfortable.
Why Is the First Gynecology Visit Important?
The idea of their first gynecological visit can make a young woman feel a variety of emotions including nervousness, embarrassment, or fear. Parents can help their daughters feel more comfortable by:
● Explaining what the appointment is for.
○ Many children associate the doctor with being sick, explain that nothing is wrong with her and regular checkups are good to help her stay healthy.
● Preparing her with what to expect, a well-woman’s visit will provide her with;
○ Information: She’ll get accurate information and confidential answers to questions about sex, sexuality, her changing body, and her periods.
○ Prevention: She can learn about pregnancy prevention, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and healthy lifestyles.
○ Treatment: The doctor can diagnose and treat any problems, such as missed periods, and pelvic or stomach pain.
● Discussing any hesitations or questions she may have.
For some young women, their first appointment may just be a conversation with their health care provider. For others, the provider may do a physical exam, which can include an examination of the external genitals.
It’s important for parents to reassure their daughters that the physical exam won’t take long and most first-time patients don’t get an internal pelvic exam. Internal exams are only recommended before age 21 if the patient is sexually active or experiencing symptoms such as heavy bleeding, painful periods, or abnormal vaginal discharge.
The First Visit
Many gynecologists recommend patients come in for their first visit (regardless of sexual activity or if they have begun menstruation) when they are 13, 14, or 15. It’s important for young women to have a professional they can trust who can help them answer their reproductive health questions.
The first women’s wellness visit will likely include a general physical exam. This is where the health care provider will take note of the patient’s height, weight, and blood pressure. The doctor may also perform a brief genital exam, however, the visit will most likely be primarily conversational.
There are certain concerns that may require an external pelvic exam, but it is rare for patients to have an internal exam at their first appointment. Parents should let their daughters know they will have an opportunity to talk to the physician privately and this would be a good time to discuss more sensitive topics they might not want to talk about in front of their parents.
Choosing a Health Care Provider
The health care practitioner should take the time to ensure that your daughter is as comfortable as possible. Parents should find a doctor who best fits their daughter’s and family’s needs. Most parents have made their daughter’s medical choices for them until now but it’s a good idea for them to involve their daughter in this decision.
Asking these questions can help patients and their parents choose a healthcare provider:
● Is the doctor board-certified?
● What is their confidentiality policy?
● Who will be in the examining room?
● What is their approach toward discussing sexual activity?
● Do they have experience with first-time patients and teens?
● Will the patient see the same doctor at each visit or will she see multiple providers?
During the appointment, it’s a good idea for moms to ask their daughters if they would like them to join them for their appointment. Whatever they decide, the patient should still have some alone time with her provider so she can get to know them. This will hopefully help her feel more comfortable coming to them in the future. Parents should encourage their daughters to be open and honest with their doctors.
If you would like to set up a well-woman’s visit for your daughter, please contact our office at 530-332-9703, extension 281. We would be happy to answer any questions you or your daughter may have.
Come back next week for part two where we will be discussing important medical conversations, how to know what’s normal, what to expect for the first visit, and STI testing.