If you have a teenage daughter, you both probably have questions about the changes her body’s going through. Maybe she’s had her first menstrual period. And she might have questions about sex, too.
As your child begins to mature, you might ask yourself, “Is it time for her first gynecological visit?”
While it’s recommended that women start seeing a gynecologist at age 21 for routine Pap smears and pelvic exams, issues like irregular periods can pop up long before then.
“It’s important to not put off a gynecology appointment as a girl matures,” says Dr. James Young, obstetrician-gynecologist (or OBGYN) at Geisinger. “We’re here to make sure she stays healthy as she grows older.”
So, when should you see a gynecologist for the first time?
The ideal age for that first gynecology appointment can vary, but here are a few factors to consider:
1. Early, late or irregular menstruation
In most cases, a girl’s menstrual period should begin 3 years after the onset of puberty, between ages 12 and 13. “If your daughter’s first period doesn’t fall into this window, you may want to have her checked out by a gynecologist for a hormone imbalance,” advises Dr. Young.
It may also be a good idea to see a gynecologist if her periods remain irregular after more than a year or two.
2. Exceptionally painful cramps or heavy periods
Painful cramps and heavy periods can also be a result of overactive hormones. If pain and cramps are affecting your daughter’s quality of life or heavy periods last longer than a week, a visit to the gynecologist can help diagnose any issues with regular hormone production.
You should also schedule a visit if her periods last more than 7 days or soak more than 1 to 2 pads per hour.
3. Sexual activity
As soon as your daughter becomes sexually active, she should begin receiving regular sexually transmitted disease (STD) screenings and vaginal health exams. Your teen should also receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine before age 26.
“More than 67 percent will have a sexual experience before age 19,” says Dr. Young. “So, it’s important that your child has the right education and resources to stay healthy.”
Outside of factors such as complications or sexual activity, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls have their first gynecologist visit between ages 13 and 15.
What to expect at the first OBGYN appointment
Your teen’s first appointment won’t be like an adult’s gynecology exam. In fact, most gynecologists won’t conduct a pelvic exam or Pap smear for teens who aren’t sexually active.
“Usually, the first few appointments are more for creating a baseline with our patients,” says Dr. Young. “We want to create an open line of communication, so they’re comfortable speaking freely if there ever is cause for concern.”
Conversations like these also can go a long way in debunking schoolyard myths about sexual activity.
During the appointment, the gynecologist will check your teen’s vitals and open the conversation for questions before conducting a quick external genital exam.
They may ask you to be in the exam room at the beginning of the appointment to provide support, but may ask you to leave when it’s time for exams or more personal questions.
Finally, your daughter’s gynecologist will likely speak to her about maintaining a healthy weight, as teens are at the greatest risk for developing eating disorders or unhealthy relationships with food.
How often should my daughter see a gynecologist?
After your daughter’s first visit, she may not need to be seen for a few years — especially if she isn’t sexually active or doesn’t experience health issues, like painful or irregular periods.
“Your teen’s gynecologist can provide guidance around visit frequency, depending on the reason for your first visit,” adds Dr. Young. “However, if there’s ever a concern, your gynecologist will be there to help.”