While only you and your daughter can determine the right timing for her first visit to the gynecologist, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the physicians at Virginia Women’s Center recommend an initial reproductive health visit between ages 13 and 15. Of course, if your daughter is having discomfort with her periods, recurring yeast infections, asking lots of questions, or considering sexual activity, she may need an appointment before this age.
The goal of this first visit is to build the foundation for a trusting relationship between your daughter and her health care provider. It can help your daughter get comfortable with her health care provider and make her aware that he or she, in addition to you, is a trusted resource to answer her questions.
Many girls are anxious or frightened about their first visit to a gynecologist. By assuring your daughter, empowering her and providing her with practical tips, you can help ease her anxieties about her appointment:
- Educate her on her family history. Your daughter should know her own medical history and the medical history of close relatives. This information can help her gynecologist know whether she needs certain preventative screenings and how frequently she might need them.
- Encourage her to write down her questions. This can be helpful for patients of all ages. Writing down a list of questions, in order of priority, ensures she gets the answers she needs. It allows her time and space to think about what her questions are and helps her to remember them if she gets flustered or nervous. Of course, if she thinks of other questions after the fact, encourage her to make a phone call or send a message on our secure patient portal.
- Let her know what to expect. Many girls are most apprehensive about Pap tests and pelvic exams. Current guidelines recommend the first Pap test at age 21, therefore, this initial visit often does not need to include a pelvic exam. Her health care provider will discuss topics such as puberty, hygiene, diet, exercise, vaccinations, sexual orientation, substance abuse and prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Her health care provider may also perform a visual exam of her breasts and external genitalia.
- Determine your role at the visit. Before the visit, ask your daughter if she wants you to come into to the exam room with her or if she would prefer you wait in the waiting room. Since the goal of this appointment is to encourage open communication, it can be helpful for you both to be part of the visit. However, it’s important to let her know that there will be a few minutes where her health care provider will want to speak with her alone.
- Encourage her to be honest. While some girls will be open and eager to discuss their health, others may be sensitive and embarrassed. Remind your daughter that even though some questions may be uncomfortable, it’s important she is open and honest with her health care provider so that he or she can provide the best care for her.
Your daughter’s first visit to the gynecologist can help set the stage for a lifetime of good health. It can also help her learn the important skill of taking care of her body and advocating for her own health. Yearly visits can help her build a relationship with her health care provider as well as answer any questions she might have or address any problems she may be experiencing.