Each stage of a woman’s life requires health management, disease detection and prevention. The best preventive care measure is the annual well-woman exam. The early detection of reproductive health problems is vital to maintaining good health. A visit to your OBGYN doesn’t have to be intimidating, nor uncomfortable.
But that first gyno exam can seem scary. The thought of discussing sensitive health topics and letting a total stranger examine your vagina might make you want to put off the appointment altogether.
Don’t. Here, we’ve put together exactly what you can expect from your first OBGYN appointment—including how to prep for it, how to stay calm when you’re feeling uncomfortable, and how to leave feeling empowered about your sexual and reproductive health.
Why you should make an OBGYN appointment in the first place.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends girls have their first OBGYN appointment between the ages of 13 and 15, with a yearly wellness visit after that. During your first appointment, you may have topics like period issues or birth control options to discuss.
Well-woman care includes a general health history, a sexual health history, a review of medications, contraceptive counseling, menopause counseling, a physical exam and, if needed, laboratory or other testing. Use your time with the doctor to ask any questions you have regarding the health of your vagina.
If you are under 21, you probably won’t need a PAP smear.
No matter what your age, the doctor go over your general health history, check your blood pressure, height and weigh you. Typically, on your first visit you won’t have a pelvic exam, unless you have any abnormal issues you are concerned about. Like, bleeding or painful periods.
If you’re 21+ though, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam and a PAP smear test. The PAP test is when the doctor takes a swab from your cervix to check for any abnormal cells. Try not to stress, it’s quick and painless, a bit uncomfortable, but, very important to do to detect any early stages of cervical cancer.
Your doctor may also show you how to perform a self-breast exam. Although young women are at very low risk of breast cancer, it is important to know how to check your breasts. And your doctor can talk you through this.
What if I just want birth control?
Most doctors don’t require a pelvic exam to prescribe birth control. They can make an informed decision based on your personal habits and your medical history. They will probably ask you questions about your behavior and what methods of birth control you are using, or would like to use, and help figure out the best option for you.
I’m worried I don’t look nice!
Honestly, doctors have seen it all! Don’t get stressed about the state of your pubic hair, or what your labia look like, or if they’re going to think you’ve got love handles, or stubbly leg hair. Remember your doctor isn’t judging your body in any way. Their only purpose during this visit, is your medical well-woman health. Sure, take a shower beforehand, if you can. But it’s not a deal-breaker. And if you’re on your period when it’s appointment time, just give the office a call, to see if you should still come in.
You’re going to have to talk…
Don’t be afraid to open up to your doctor. They are there to help and are on your side. And, remember, this will be a private conversation between just you and your health care professional.
You will need to know the date of your last period, so be prepared to make a note of that. They need to talk to you about your menstrual cycle, and any issues you may have with it. Irregular bleeding? Heavy cramps? Missed periods? You will also be asked about your sexual activity. Don’t be afraid to open up. You are not being judged. It’s your doctor’s job to support you.
Be informed: Know your family history.
During your OBGYN, they’ll also want to know your family’s medical history. Knowing your mom’s health history and any family history of blood clots, is particularly helpful, as that can inform what birth control methods are best for you.
Don’t be surprised if you get a call afterwards
Your OBGYN may telephone you after your appointment. Especially if you’ve had any tests done. This follow-up call may be if you have test results, or if they need you to come back in for a review of test results, or to have further tests done. Typically, though you won’t hear from them after a PAP test if the results are clear.
Make your next appointment while you’re there!
As OBGYN offices get quite booked up in advance, it’s a good idea to schedule your next appointment with them, before you leave. Typically, they can schedule six months to a year in advance. As it’s important to get an annual well-woman check, it’s good to have it on your calendar before you head out of there.
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