The official recommendation of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is that adolescent girls see a gynaecologist for their first visit between the ages of 13 and 15.
The benefits of regular gynaeological checkups for teenagers
Even if your daughter isn’t sexually active and isn’t at risk for genetic gynaecological health concerns, a yearly gynaecological checkup during adolescence brings many benefits:
- Ensuring that her physical development is on track; if there are issues spotted, they can be identified and treated earlier
- Gaining information about her body and reproductive system and how to keep them healthy
- Understanding what’s normal when it comes to her periods or vaginal discharge, and what could be a sign of a problem
- The opportunity to ask about sex, STDs and birth control in a safe, reliable and confidential environment
- A chance to discuss the changes adolescence brings, from acne to mood swings
If your daughter is sexually active, it’s even more important that she see a gynaecologist for regular checkups. In addition to all of the above benefits, a gynaecologist will also test for certain sexually transmitted diseases, so any issues can be caught and treated before they turn into serious problems.
Regular checkups for adolescents usually consist of a discussion and an external exam. Pap smears and pelvic exams are usually not done until around age 21. If your daughter is sexually active, it’s possible they might be performed earlier.
When there’s a gynaecological issue
Whether your daughter is going for regular checkups, or she hasn’t yet gone for her first one, you should certainly have her see a gynaecologist if any special concerns or issues comes up.
Intense period pain and cramping
Periods can often brings cramps and abdominal pain, especially for teenagers. Try painkillers and other ways to reduce period pain, but if they don’t work, and your daughter’s pain is interfering with her ability to function at school or in social situations, she should certainly bring that up with a gynaecologist. There may be underlying causes for heavy bleeding or intense pain.
Heavy menstrual bleeding
Some girls have heavier, longer periods than others – it’s just one of those realities of life. But if your daughter’s period is unusually heavy, or the amount of bleeding during her period is interfering with her leading a normal life, it’s worth consulting a gynaecologist.
It’s normal for periods to be irregular when your daughter first starts menstruating. Her body is still figuring itself out and getting into a rhythm. If, however, your daughter has been getting her period for 2 years and it’s still not regular, or if at any time her period doesn’t come for 3 months, she should go to a gynaecologist. (Additionally, if your daughter is sexually active and she misses even one period, she should go and check that out.)
Signs of infection
If your daughter complains of lower abdominal pain and vaginal discharge of unusual color (yellow, green or grey) with a strong smell, she should go see a gynaecologist to check for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
Okay, so you’re convinced that it’s time your daughter should go for her first gynaecological checkup. But she’s not too keen on the idea. How do you address her concerns sensitively and effectively?
Your daughter’s concerns – and how to address them
Talk to your daughter about her concerns. They may include:
Your daughter is understandably embarrassed by a stranger looking at her private parts and discussing private matters like periods and sex. She also may have questions she wants to ask, but is concerned she’ll sound silly or naive.
Reassure her that this is what the gynaecologist does all day, every day. They look at private parts the same way she would look at a nose or an ankle. Any questions she could bring up, the gynaecologist has certainly heard before, and probably on a regular basis.
Your daughter may be concerned that whatever she says will get back to you… and there are some things she’d like to ask that she really doesn’t want you to hear about.
Explain that usually everything discussed between a doctor and a patient is kept in confidence, unless the doctor is concerned that the patient is going to harm himself or another person. Then (and only then) the doctor has an obligation to share that information. Suggest that if your daughter has concerns about confidentiality, she should bring them up with the gynaecologist before they start discussing anything sensitive. And don’t accompany her into the examining room.
Any gynaecological examination your daughter will experience should not hurt – unless there are existing gynaecological issues. Even a pelvic exam – while potentially uncomfortable – should not be painful. There is usually a feeling of pressure, and that can often be relieved by doing deep, slow breathing while the examination happens. Let her know about this ahead of time, so she’s not surprised or panicked.
An ounce of prevention…
Regular visits to a gynaecologist when your daughter is an adolescent can make sure concerns are addressed, prevent issues from developing, and give her the best chance at a healthy reproductive system and healthy sexuality as she grows older.