No one is excited for their visit to the gynecologist, whether it’s your first or your fiftieth. A trip to the gynecologist, while never anyone’s idea of a fun afternoon, should also not be a traumatic or scary appointment. A big key to helping girls feel more comfortable with the idea of their first visit is knowing what to expect.
Things have changed a bit over the past few years and teens no longer need Pap smears. The new guidelines recommend Pap smears starting at age 21. That takes a lot of anxiety and pressure off adolescents as they may not necessarily need an invasive pelvic exam at their first visit. We can spend more time talking to them and discussing their concerns. To prepare your daughter for her visit here are some things to discuss with her before she checks in. You may want to start the conversation days or weeks ahead of time to get her used to the idea.
1. Brief her on family history especially if you are not going to be in the room with her.
It’s always good for young patients to know as much as possible about their family medical history since sooner or later, they’ll definitely be on their own at the doctor’s office.
Your daughter will be asked about any of her own medical problems, hospitalizations, surgeries, and medications. We will also ask about family history, so be sure to include any important medical information about siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. If any close family members have passed away doctors will want to know what they died from and at what age to help us make sure your daughter is not at risk for any genetic diseases. One helpful way to make sure your teen remembers everything is to type up a family history for her to take into the room.
2. Encourage her to make a list of questions she would like to ask.
Sometimes when girls are stressed or nervous during an appointment, they can forget their questions. Have her think about questions before her visit and write them down. Common topics that we discuss include periods, hormones, birth control, sex and sexually transmitted infections and even other health concerns like asthma.
Consider having her make a list of topics that YOU would like us to discuss with her. Just as all kids are different, so are parents. Some families are more comfortable discussing sensitive information than others. As Ob-Gyn providers we are comfortable discussing or teaching your daughter about delicate topics such as weight, nutrition, periods, sex, acne, hygiene, reproductive anatomy etc.
3. Stress the importance of being clean for the examination.
I get asked about this A LOT. To shave or not to shave? The doc isn’t going to care about how she grooms. I get patients that are very concerned if they haven’t shaved their legs. We don’t notice or care about that either, I promise. We also don’t mind if someone is on their period during a visit (unless it is for a Pap smear as it will affect the results). We deliver babies; a few drops of blood from a period won’t bother us if delivering a baby doesn’t faze us. Now hygiene is a different story. I had a teen patient come to her appointment immediately after spending a day at the beach. She was covered in sand and left it in my waiting room, on my exam table, the floor, and even worse, she had sand all over the parts I needed to see when I went to examine her. A quick rinse off, or even using the moist towelettes we provide in the bathroom is appreciated.
4. If you know your daughter is sexually active, find a way to tell her that she should abstain for 24 hours before her appointment.
If your daughter needs an exam or a pap, semen can make results difficult to interpret and normal redness that occurs after intercourse can mimic an infection.
5. Give her an overview of what to expect during her time at the office.
The following are common:
- Filling out paperwork.
- Doing a urine sample to check for pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and urinary tract infections. (Tell her not to pee right when she gets into the office and instead ask the nurse putting her in a room if they will need a urine sample.)
- Possible pelvic exam. The doctor will do a pelvic exam if the patient has any complaints of lumps, bumps, pelvic pain or strange discharge. Even if your daughter doesn’t need a pap smear, she can ask the doctor to tell her how it’s done and show her the speculum. That way, she’ll know what to expect the next time. You can also describe it for her if you feel comfortable and promise not to scare her.
- Undergoing a breast exam. If your daughter doesn’t do her own exams, the doctor will show her how to do it.
- Heart and lung exam with a stethoscope.
6. Encourage her to be honest.
Sometimes, young women can be scared to tell the truth. Your daughter will be asked a lot of personal questions. Remind your daughter not to be embarrassed, that doctors are professionals who see a lot of women each day and ask them the same questions. Doctors really do need to know about sensitive subjects like sexual activity, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and any mental health issues. The only way doctors can safely help is if they have the full story of what is going on.
7. Prep her for after the appointment, too.
- If she has a pelvic exam, let her know that she will want to clean herself off with the tissues in the exam room before putting her clothes back on. It’s a really uncomfortable sensation to put underwear on if there is residual lubricating gel still present.
- If the doctor runs tests, make sure she knows how she will get the results, whether it will be by phone or email or a letter.
- Let her know it’s OK to call the doctor if questions come up that she forgets to ask.
- Tell her she doesn’t have to stick with the same doc if she felt uncomfortable or like she “didn’t connect.” A gynecology visit is very personal. She needs to be comfortable both honestly discussing her problems with her doctor and receiving a sensitive examination from this provider. A doc she likes and trusts will make all the difference in the world!