Rachel K. Casey, MD, is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology. She is Medical Director of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology at the Pediatric Specialists of Virginia and a member of the OB-GYN Department at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Adolescence is a time of rapid change. Girls’ bodies are growing and developing, and their brains are changing, too. During this time, pediatricians still play an important part in girls’ medical care. But as girls mature, it is also important to start seeing a gynecologist for routine care.
Obstetricians and gynecologists, commonly known as OB-GYN doctors, specialize in caring for women’s reproductive health. When should girls start seeing a gynecologist? And what will happen at their first visit? Here’s what to expect.
At What Age Should You Start Going to the Gynecologist?
In general, girls should have their first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. By this age, most girls have started their periods. But they don’t have to wait until their period starts to see a doctor specializing in women’s health.
While 13 to 15 is a good target for that first visit, girls might benefit from seeing a gynecologist sooner if they:
- Are sexually active.
- Have concerns about their periods (such as irregular, heavy or painful periods).
- Have questions or concerns about their anatomy.
- Are experiencing vaginal symptoms such as itching or pain.
Your First OB-GYN Exam: What to Expect
Many girls are nervous about seeing a gynecologist for the first time. If your daughter feels anxious, encourage her to talk to the doctor about her worries. Doctors want to help patients feel comfortable so they can get to know one another and talk openly about reproductive health.
In fact, the first visit will probably involve a lot of talking. During that visit, the doctor will ask questions about your daughter’s general health and medical history.
The doctor will also spend time talking about menstrual cycles: Has your daughter started her period? Are they regular or irregular? Are they heavy or light? Similar to heart rate or blood pressure, periods offer clues about a woman’s overall health. If your daughter hasn’t started her period yet, her gynecologist can help determine if there’s a reason it’s delayed.
Many young girls are worried about getting an internal exam. But for most women, internal gynecological exams aren’t recommended until age 21. At that point, women also start getting Pap tests, which look for changes to the cervix.
Privacy and Confidentiality at the Gynecology Exam
When meeting with teens, most gynecologists give patients a chance to speak one-on-one, without parents present. Young women often have questions they don’t feel comfortable talking about in front of their parents, including questions about how their anatomy is changing as they grow, or how to use a tampon.
By law, doctors can keep conversations about sex and birth control confidential from a teen’s parents. That helps young patients feel comfortable talking to their doctors about all aspects of their reproductive health. Having private conversations with their doctors is also a good opportunity for girls to practice advocating for their own healthcare needs.
Finding the Right OB-GYN
Many mothers take their daughters to their own gynecologists, and that’s a great place to start. But you want to make sure it’s a good fit so that your daughter has a trusting relationship with her doctor. Talk to your daughter about what she’d feel most comfortable with in a provider, including their age, gender and experience.
These days, girls have a world of information available at their fingertips. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Period-tracking apps, for instance, can be really helpful. When girls first start their period, it’s often irregular. Apps can help them track their cycles so that gynecologists can decide if that irregularity is something that needs to be evaluated further.
On the other hand, the internet is full of questionable medical advice. One of the best ways to counter that misinformation is by establishing trusted relationships with doctors. A gynecologist can provide patients with accurate medical information and point them toward the facts. Establishing that relationship now will benefit your daughter’s reproductive health for decades to come.
Inova’s OB-GYN doctors provide lifelong gynecologic care, from annual check-ups to advanced specialty treatment. When it’s time for your daughter to start gynecologic care, find an Inova OB-GYN to make an appointment.