No doubt your daughter has had many well-child check-ups in her life, but moving on to well-woman check-ups is a big transition. That's why it's so important to make your daughter's first trip as comfortable as possible. The key? Communication.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend teenage girls see a doctor specifically for reproductive health between the ages of 13 to 15 or when they become sexually active, whichever comes first.

According to ACOG, the primary goal of the initial reproductive health visit is to provide preventive health care services, including educational information and guidance. It's not supposed to be problem-focused unless she has specific health concerns. In fact, she probably doesn't even need a pelvic exam. This visit essentially alleviates fears and develops trust between patient and physician.

Your Daughter's First Gynecologic Exam

For most young women, this first gynecologic check-up serves three purposes:

1. Education. The check-up provides an opportunity for girls to get information about sex, sexuality, body changes, body image and menstruation. It establishes a relationship between your daughter and her doctor so she knows she has someone to turn to, and is comfortable doing so.

2. Prevention. Your daughter's doctor will discuss how to avoid unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle throughout her reproductive years and beyond.

3. Healthcare. Your daughter can also divulge any menstrual problems or other gynecologic issues she's experiencing so her doctor can diagnose and treat them.

Your daughter may have an initial consultation with her doctor with you present. There might also be a discussion with you, the parent, alone. Then, there's a confidential visit between the health care provider and your daughter alone.  ACOG says that the patient (a.k.a., your daughter) has the right to decide if she does not want her parent's presence at any time during the visit. 

How You Can Help Your Daughter Prepare for the Doctor's Visit

Letting your daughter know what the gynecologist may ask and details of the exam may put her at ease. Here's what you can tell her:

Your daughter's health care provider will ask about her medical history, including past illnesses, surgeries and vaccinations. Then she'll ask questions specifically about reproductive health. Let your daughter know she'll probably be asked:

  • Whether she's ever had sex or is sexually active
  • When she had her last period and how often does she have them
  • Is she having pain with her period or during her cycle?

In addition to having her weight, height and blood pressure checked, her physical exam might include having her lungs, heart, throat, breasts and abdomen examined. She might also be asked to give a urine and/or blood sample. 

How You Can Help the Gynecologist

If you have the opportunity to talk with the doctor prior to your daughter's exam, let her know you'd like her to communicate any common procedures clearly to your daughter. Knowledge will help put her at ease.

If her doctor performs a breast exam, she'll also teach your daughter how to examine her own breasts on a monthly basis so she'll learn the difference between what's normal for her so she can spot any unusual changes. Her doctor might also do an external examination of her genitals, which would require your daughter to undress. Ask her doctor to explain everything in advance. 

If your daughter is having any specific gynecologic problems, she might need an internal pelvic exam, though in many cases, that's not necessary.  Again, ask her doctor to explain the procedure in advance and answer your daughter's questions before proceeding. 

Will your daughter be relaxed about her appointment?  Maybe not, but with proper preparation, she can be comfortable, informed and prepared for the reproductive years ahead.

Heather Weldon MD, OB-GYN, reviewed this article.