It seems your daughter is growing up right before your eyes. The milestones keep rolling in. You’ve tackled the birds and bees discussion, their first bra, their first shave, maybe even their first period. But now it’s time to schedule their first gynecological visit.
Your daughter’s first OBYGN appointment is an important step in building a foundation for good health throughout their lifetime, but the first visit can be a bit scary and nerve-wracking for them—and for you, as a parent. Let’s be honest, you’re still grappling with feelings about your daughter developing into a young woman.
Read on to learn the purpose behind this visit and what you should both know before she goes.
How soon after your daughter’s first period should they schedule a gynecology appointment?
It’s typical for young girls to start their periods (menstruation) between the ages of 10 to 12, but it’s not uncommon for girls to start as early as 9 years old or as late as 15 years old.
Regardless of when your daughter starts their period or not, young women should make their first visit to the OBGYN between the ages of 13 and 15, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Does my daughter have to see a gynecologist?
There is no written rule that a young female needs to be seen by a gynecologist, said Christopher Danielson, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Center in Arizona.
“Any primary care provider can counsel patients on basic gynecologic needs,” he said. “These include anything from adolescence to menopause.” However, if any gynecological issues become more complicated, then they should be referred to a OBGYN specialist.
What can she expect at her first visit?
“The first visit is generally informational,” Dr. Danielson said. “Young girls don’t have to have a pelvic exam at their first visit but can find out what to expect at future visits and get information about how to stay healthy.”
Your daughter’s first appointment with a gynecologist will likely include a general physical exam, which includes height, weight and blood pressure. The health care provider may also perform a brief external genital exam, but the visit is more conversational than anything else.
“The provider may ask questions about their overall health, menstrual period, sexual activity, but she should be rest assured that all conversations are kept confidential between provider and patient to develop trust,” Dr. Danielson said. “If necessary, and with the patient’s consent, a pelvic exam may be done on the first visit, but it should be stressed that this is not necessary unless they are having problems.”
What questions should your daughter ask during the appointment?
This is also a great opportunity to ask any burning questions they might not feel comfortable asking you or those questions you may not have the answers for. Talk to your daughter and have her prepare a list of questions in advance to bring to the appointment.
“Many young patients seek a gynecologist’s care for answers concerning menstrual cycles such as cramping, heavy menses (periods), tampons, pads and cycle length and timing,” Dr. Danielson said. However, an OBGYN can also discuss any of the following:
- birth control and reproductive health
- sex and sexuality
- vaginitis (yeast and bacterial vaginosis)
- breast concerns
- sexually transmitted infections
- vaccinations, such as the HPV vaccine
- weight, such as any recent weight gain or weight loss
- emotional and social health
- alcohol, drugs and smoking/vaping
If your daughter is having any problems, they may require additional testing, however, most can be done with a urine sample.
When it comes to sexual health, how is this discussed?
This conversation is generally a part of the history taking. “It is usually a simple question of ‘have you been thinking about, or have you had sexual activity?’” Dr. Danielson said. “Or we ask, ‘do you have any questions about sexual health?’”
This is a sensitive topic for many young women and parents. You and/or your daughter may not wish to have this conversation. “If they decline to answer questions, that’s certainly appropriate,” Dr. Danielson said.
At times, it may be helpful for you to leave the room, or your daughter may ask you to leave the room. During these situations, a chaperone such as a nurse or medical assistant is always present during history taking and counseling.
“We always stress the importance of patient safety and care and our desire to take care of the patient,” Dr. Danielson said. “At the beginning of the appointment, we let the patient know they (not their parent or guardian) are our patient. We do our best to educate them that their privacy is important and that we don’t discuss their concerns with their parents unless they agree or if it’s an emergency related to the patient."
How often should your daughter visit the gynecologist?
After the first visit, your daughter doesn’t need to see the gynecologist again until they are 18 or after the start of sexual activity, although they should continue with their regular annual well checks with their primary health care provider.
Young women don’t need pap smear tests until they are 21 years old, but it’s recommended they receive a well woman’s exam including a pelvic exam every year starting at the age of 18.
“A pap test is a procedure in which a swab or brush is used to test for cervical cancer and is done during a pelvic exam,” Dr. Danielson said. “It’s recommended every three years until age 29 and then every five years from age 30 until age 65.” Women ages 30 and over should also be tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) with their pap test.
If specific issues come up, like irregular periods or a yeast infection, or your daughter has questions or concerns, an appointment should be made.
Keep the conversation going
Dr. Danielson said keeping the conversation going, even after the first appointment. It’s ideal for parents to start conversations about reproductive and sexual health.
“We have had conversations with our own daughters, discussing women’s health concerns, starting at an early age,” Dr. Danielson said. “We do our best to validate their concerns and answer their questions truthfully.”
Still, if your daughter is more comfortable discussing these things with their provider, that’s definitely a role a gynecologist or primary health care provider can play.
Indeed, your daughter’s transition from a child into a young adult can be celebrated as a rite of passage that brings you closer. The goal is to help your daughter to be healthy, confident and safe. To find a gynecologist in your area, visit bannerhealth.com.