I am the mother of a 16-year-old daughter. While we have had all the talks about her changing body and women's health, now that she is older there are more topics to discuss. To be honest, it can feel like teens don't really want to talk about personal subjects like this. At least that's what I am experiencing, and it can make me feel uncomfortable trying to get her to talk with me about women's health. I reached out to Samantha Sinclair, MD, of The Christ Hospital Physicians – Obstetrics & Gynecology to get some advice on when my daughter should make her first appointment, how I can make her feel comfortable, and what she should expect.
First Gynecologist Visit
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends girls first begin seeing a gynecologist between ages 13-15. Dr. Sinclair adds that young women should start getting pelvic exams at the age of 21. She told me that teens may visit an OBGYN to talk about things like puberty, menstrual control with birth control and other matters. We have not had any concerns with my daughter (luckily), but I still want her to be prepared should she need to go see an OBGYN. Dr. Sinclair gave me great advice about preparing her for a visit. She says that while talking about private matters with a new doctor could be scary and uncomfortable, my daughter needs to know that "she is always in charge of her own care and she should not be afraid to drive the meeting". If a pelvic exam is suggested and she doesn't feel comfortable, she can always say no.
Birth Control and HPV
Two other BIG things that come up when talking about female health with a daughter is birth control and the HPV vaccine. I have to admit I cringe when talking about both of these subjects, but I know it's a part of life with a teenager. Dr. Sinclair explained that HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts or abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer. She went on to say that "The HPV vaccine, in short, protects our young ladies from developing (cervical) cancer." Then there is the matter of birth control. Something that my daughter did not know is that it can be used for other issues besides just preventing pregnancy. It can help regulate your period and to improve acne. Dr. Sinclair stressed to have that open conversation early on so that my daughter doesn't get misinformation from friends and the internet. Hearing that made me feel a lot more comfortable talking to my daughter about this.
Finding the Right Gynecologist
Dr. Sinclair suggested that an easy way to find the right OBGYN for my teen is by getting a recommendation from our family doctor. Talking to friends and family to learn more about who they see, what they like about that provider, etc., is another option. Establishing a relationship with a gynecologist we (or in this case, our daughters) connect with and trust is important. It's okay to "shop around" to find the right fit. Dr. Sinclair also recommended going to The Christ Hospital's website to look at doctor bios and watch their videos to learn more about them and get an idea of their personality. That is a great way to find a doctor with the personality my daughter would feel comfortable with. I love the idea of virtually meeting the doctor before actually meeting him/her.
My biggest take away from talking to Dr. Sinclair was to make sure my daughter knows it's OK to talk about all these things and she should be comfortable asking questions. Hey, we are women and we all have been through this! Find a women's health expert who is right for you or your daughter or learn more about women's health at The Christ Hospital.