Does My Child Need to Visit a Gynecologist?
It can be hard as a parent to admit that your child is growing up and maturing. It seems like time moves so fast – it’s tempting to want to hold them close and keep them young for as long as possible. However, when it comes to medical care and their growing bodies, time doesn’t wait. Your child may need gynecological care sooner than you think.
“The initial reproductive preventative health visit provides the opportunity for the patient and gynecologist to begin building a relationship,” says Rachael L. Polis, D.O., MPH, who specializes in pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “This is a time for the physician to counsel about healthy behaviors and dispel health-related myths and concerns.”
The Transition to Gynecological Care for Young Women
The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that young women have their first gynecological visit between the ages of 13 to 15.
As a young woman matures, she may have concerns that go beyond what her pediatrician typically addresses, but may not be ready to see an adult gynecologist. In these cases, a gynecologist specializing in pediatric and adolescent gynecology may be the best fit. In many cases, the gynecologist will spend most of the first appointment speaking with the new patient to understand her concerns. That appointment will rarely include an internal pelvic exam and will not include a pap test.
“The appointment will also involve discussing the patient's menstrual cycle. If the patient’s cycle has started before they meet with their doctor for the first time, they should track it on a calendar and bring it to the appointment with them,” Polis says. “The patient’s menstrual cycle is a vital sign for gynecologists to track and monitor. Identifying abnormal menstrual patterns might provide early identification of future health concerns.”
When Is It Time to See a Gynecologist?
In addition to seeing a gynecologist near the beginning of puberty, there are other times a young woman may need to make an appointment. In these cases, her pediatrician will likely make the recommendation.
An adolescent gynecologist will treat issues such as:
- Delayed puberty and delayed sexual development
- Menstrual problems and painful menstrual cramps
- Ovarian cysts
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Abnormalities of the vulva
- Vaginal discharge and infections
- Sexually transmitted diseases and treatment
- Hirsutism, or excessive male-pattern hair growth
“Patients typically only see their gynecologist once a year but sometimes it might be more often depending on their condition,” Polis says. “It’s important for young women to see a gynecologist at least once a year, as their needs and bodies will change throughout their adolescence.”
Helping a Young Women Take Charge of Her Health
The other benefit of seeing an adolescent gynecologist is that it helps to set the stage for a lifetime of good health. It teaches a young woman how to take charge of decisions about her medical care at a time in her life when she typically has the support of family or caregivers.
Meeting with a gynecologist as an adolescent helps them create comfort around asking questions about personal issues without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.
“I advocate that parents and their children have an open dialogue with one another so that they can share both their feelings and concerns,” Polis says.
If you think your child would benefit from seeing a gynecologist, talk to your pediatrician for advice and recommendations.