Commentary by Courtney Browne, MD
Scheduling the first visit with a gynecologist can make many teen girls and younger women feel anxious. Most aren’t sure what to expect, and there is usually apprehension about the physical exam. Moms can be a trusted source of information and a good resource for daughters who are preparing to see a gynecologist.
One common question young women ask is “when should I go for my first exam?” All women should have their first pelvic exam and Pap smear by age 21. Your daughter may need to visit a gynecologist earlier if she is experiencing menstrual problems, such as irregular periods or heavy menstrual bleeding. Your family doctor or pediatrician may recommend consulting a gynecologist for conditions such as pelvic infections, ovarian cysts and breast problems. Parents also seek information and counseling from gynecologists on the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, which most doctors recommend for girls between the ages of 11 and 12 – and definitely before a woman becomes sexually active.
When choosing a doctor for your daughter, remember that some girls may feel more comfortable seeing a gynecologist with experience treating teenagers and younger women. Typically, these doctors more fully understand the fears and anxiety associated with the first office visit and approach the topic in a way that makes adolescents and younger women feel more at ease. It’s not unusual for gynecologists who have experience with younger women to spend several minutes just talking to the patient to help build a foundation of trust. It also can be comforting for girls and young women to know that in some cases, a physical exam may not be necessary depending on the issue. For example, many infections can be diagnosed with a simple urine test.
As most grown women remember, the female body undergoes a great deal of change during adolescence and early adulthood. Your daughter will likely have a lot of questions about her changing body. As a mom, you can help by keeping the lines of communication open and engaging in open and honest conversations when new issues or circumstances arise.
Courtney Browne, MD, specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Women’s Health, 11725 N. Illinois St., Indianapolis. She can be reached by calling the office at 688-5200.