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"Mom, when should I go to the gynecologist?"

Moms and doctors discuss a girl's first OB-GYN appointment

Since your daughter was born, the pediatrician has been able to answer all of your medical questions about her. Now, as your daughter matures and reaches puberty, you both may be wondering: when is the right time to see the gynecologist?

Many mothers feel in the dark regarding when and how to go about this process without causing stress and anxiety for their daughter (and themselves).

How old is old enough
"When is the right age?" asks Poughkeepsie mom, Rachel Daley, voicing the same concern as most mom's with teenage daughters.  

"There's not one answer to that question," states Dr. Robin Karpfen, MD, FACOG, head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at Crystal Run Healthcare.

Girls should visit a gynecologist for the first time between the ages of 13-15, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,. However, this age bracket does not fit in all cases and is considered more of a guideline for parents rather than a requirement.  

"Every exam is tailored to each young woman," says Dr. Karpfen. This includes the age in which they feel ready for the visit. Factors that may jump-start the scheduling of a gynecology appointment could be the beginning of menstruation, interest in learning more about reproductive health, or experiencing menstrual concerns.  But the tell-tale sign that your daughter is ready to see an OB-GYN will most likely come directly from her, whether outright state stated or by showing increased interest in the topic.

For moms looking for a way to begin an open forum with their daughters, Dr. Karpfen suggests bringing up the topic of reproductive health at your daughter's pediatricians appointment around the time she begins puberty. Starting this conversation with your daughter and a health professional she's familiar with can be useful for both moms and daughters to figure out when the time is right.

If you're still unsure about your daughter's readiness, Dr. Karpfen says, "Sixteen is good, without any pressing issues earlier."

READ MORE: Is your teen becoming self-centered?

What to expect
"A lot of the appointment is going to be discussion," explains Dr. Karpfen when describing a typical first gynecology appointment. "A lot of information, opinions and questions."

When a young woman arrives at the OB-GYN for her first visit, she will most likely feel some anxiety. Knowing this, Dr. Karpfen encourages starting off the appointment with information and conversation.  

A variety of topics will be addressed at your daughter's appointment to spark any primary questions or concerns. Dr. Karpfen acknowledges that subject matter will vary from reproductive health and contraceptives, to even social media and peer pressure.

Physical exams will vary depending on the purpose of your daughter's visit. "Breast exams are expected", says Dr. Karpfen. Educating women on self-breast exams is critical to teach at a young age and opens up an opportunity for your daughter to begin asking more in-depth questions about her body.

Pelvic exams, however, are not to be expected on the first visit if your daughter expresses no immediate concerns.

"The appointment is not about invading," encourages Dr. Karpfen, "It's about starting a conversation."

READ MORE: How to deal with mean girls

Preparation is key  

Preparing for your daughter's first appointment days before arriving at the office may significantly ease feelings of anxiety and stress.

For professional resources to reference, Dr. Karpfen recommends exploring the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology website for patient information. This section has several online pamphlets
available on a variety of different topics specific to teens.

If you're unsure about what resources to review, your physicians will be more than willing to provide pamphlets they have available on subjects your daughter may find helpful for preparation. "We have a ton of information available in the office for patients," states Dr. Karpfen, referring to the Middletown and Goshen locations.

"I think it's best to share as much information as possible beforehand," says Rosendale mom, Tina Long, when looking back on her daughter's first appointment. Sharing personal stories with your daughter of your OB-GYN experiences can also help reduce anxiety says Long, finding her daughter very receptive to this strategy.

READ MORE: Is your daughter developing early?

Respect privacy

So, the time is here, the appointment was scheduled, you're sitting in the waiting room, and the nurse calls your daughter's name. The next question arises- do you go in with her?

For some mothers who have a tight bond with their daughters, the question may not seem like a question at all. However, Long and her daughter, Megan (now 28) are in agreement that you should respect your daughter's privacy by asking beforehand.

"We have always had a very close and open relationship so I figured she would want me there," states Long. "But that was not for me to decide." As significant as this appointment is for you as a mom, this benchmark can be equally as important for your daughter on her journey into womanhood.

"Make sure you give your daughter the choice to have you in the room," says Megan. It is scary, and she may want you there, but you want her to have the best care, so she needs to be able to be totally honest with her doctor."

From a physician's perspective, Dr. Karpfen reports preferring to have the moms present during the first portion of the exam to provide details about the family history and surgical health. However, after this, Dr. Karpfen admits she will ask the mothers to leave to talk privately with their daughter.

"It affords a young patient the opportunity to say and ask questions they didn't even know they felt uncomfortable asking about in front of parents," encourages Dr. Karpfen. If the moms feel left out, Karpfen leaves an option to regroup later in the appointment.

READ MORE: Tips to boost your daughter's self esteem

Include your daughter in the process
When choosing an OB-GYN for your daughter, it may not initially occur to moms to include their daughters in the decision making process. Megan states that skipping this step can be a huge mistake.

"It's important for moms not to assume that their daughters will feel comfortable going to their choice of doctors," says Megan regarding her first appointment. "My mom's doctor was a male and as a teen that freaked me out."

Your daughter will appreciate the gesture of being involved when choosing a physician. If she is comfortable from the beginning, chances are better for positive ongoing care.

Physicians and parents alike agree- talking to your daughter is the best start to scheduling and preparing for her first gynecology appointment.

By keeping communication open, respecting your daughter's privacy and always providing emotional support, Long reassures moms, "You will know when it is time."

Michelle Peterson is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie with her spouse and two sons. She's most recently pursued her dream of writing full-time, with the support of her loving family and a great deal of coffee.

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