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When does my daughter need to see a gynecologist? What to know about age recommendations — and what to expect during an exam.

A girl sits across from a gynecologist, who is looking down at a laptop computer.
What parents need to know about recommendations for girls to see a gynecologist — and what happens during an exam. (Getty Images)

There’s a lot for parents to navigate when kids hit puberty: sex ed (if you haven’t already initiated that conversation), various physical changes, mood swings, menstruation and more. When that child happens to be female, parents might also wonder: Is it time to book an appointment with a gynecologist? What will a visit entail, and how frequently do they need to happen? What other factors should parents take into account when deciding which doctor their daughter will see?

Below, gynecologists break down their recommendations for young patients, and explain why it’s important for adolescent girls to learn more about their reproductive health. Here’s what to know — and how parents can support their daughters during these visits.

What’s the recommended age to start seeing a gynecologist?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that girls first see a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. Many girls wait to make an appointment after their periods have started, Dr. Anne Smith, a pediatric and adolescent ob-gyn at Yale Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. But if a girl has not yet started her period by age 15, Smith says it’s still important to make an appointment for an initial reproductive health visit because further evaluation may be required to determine the cause of the delay.

Some girls put off seeing a gynecologist for various reasons, from discomfort and shame to a lack of health insurance to the assumption that it’s not necessary if you aren’t sexually active or experiencing any reproductive health issues. But these visits shouldn’t be delayed for too long; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that most women get their first Pap smear — which collects cells from the cervix and tests them for any abnormalities that might indicate a risk for cervical cancer — once they turn 21. Accordingly, Smith recommends seeing a gynecologist for the first time then if a woman has not already established gynecologic care.

What else could trigger a visit to the gynecologist?

Aside from routine screenings based on age, there are other reasons a young woman might visit a gynecologist for the first time.

Dr. Joyce Gottesfeld, an ob-gyn with Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, recommends that females see a gynecologist when they are considering becoming sexually active to discuss birth control options and prevention against sexually transmitted infections, and to “get a better understanding of what changes you can expect in your body,” she tells Yahoo Life. Although some women may feel prepared to handle these issues without seeing a gynecologist, Gottesfeld says that “the conversation is an important one to have not just with friends or trusted loved ones but with a medical professional who can answer a litany of questions you may have.”

Additionally, women and girls who experience irregular or painful periods, abnormal vaginal discharge, itching or other concerning symptoms related to their pelvic organs should see a gynecologist as soon as these symptoms begin, Gottesfeld recommends.

Is it better for girls to visit a pediatric gynecologist?

Although most general gynecologists can handle adolescent gynecologic needs, Smith says seeing a pediatric gynecologist — who specializes in care for infants, children and adolescents — might be necessary for some girls.

“Many gynecologists will not feel comfortable seeing girls below a certain age, often age 13,” Smith says. She adds that girls who have not yet gone through puberty will typically benefit from seeing a pediatric gynecologist if they are under 15.

Smith also notes that girls “with complex anomalies of the reproductive tract or other pelvic organs, including the bladder and bowel, should seek out a pediatric gynecologist during puberty or when they have their first period,” because they may need specialized care. And infants and children experiencing pain or infections affecting the pelvic organs may be referred to a pediatric gynecologist.

What is the first visit to a gynecologist like?

Many girls and young women are nervous about seeing a gynecologist for the first time. “The first visit can be kind of scary for younger girls,” Gottesfeld says. “The goal is to make every visit for a patient, regardless of age, as comfortable and welcoming as possible. We’re here to help address concerns and answer questions.”

Smith explains that most girls seeing a gynecologist for the first time will have a “discussion about periods, general health and safety.” Usually, there is also a routine physical exam, similar to the one they get at the pediatrician’s office, she says. This normally involves listening to the patient’s heart, lungs and abdomen. Typically, teens do not need to undress or have a pelvic exam during their first visit, Gottesfeld adds.

However, Smith notes that “sometimes an external genital exam will be needed” if teens have questions about discharge or another issue that requires closer examination. It is rare for a young woman under 21 to need a pelvic exam or an internal vaginal exam, she adds.

How can parents best prepare their daughters for their first visit to the gynecologist?

No matter what brings a young woman to the gynecologist for the first time, “conversation is key” to helping teens feel comfortable, Gottesfeld says. Before the first visit, she recommends emphasizing to teens that they “have the right to ask questions.” She also recommends telling teens that the visit is “a great opportunity for them to gain more knowledge about their body and their wants, because knowledge is power.” Gottesfeld also encourages parents to remember that the visit is about their daughter and that the young girl should take the lead.

Additionally, Gottesfeld recommends that parents talk to their teens about what to expect during the exam, assuring them that “it shouldn’t hurt and shouldn’t be uncomfortable.”

Can parents stay in the room with their daughter during the appointment?

According to Smith, most teens prefer to have a parent stay in the room with them for the first visit, especially if there are “sensitive exams” being performed. However, she stresses that the teen is in control and “it is entirely their decision” whether or not a parent stays with them.

If a teen does not want their parent to be present, Smith says that the provider should have another person, such as a nurse, in the room with them if they are performing an intimate exam. “It is typically not appropriate for a provider to perform a breast, pelvic or anogenital [relating to the anus and genitals] exam [with] an adolescent without a parent or other chaperone present in the room,” she says.

What’s the best way to help a girl who is feeling embarrassed?

Most visits to a gynecologist involve topics many teen girls want to avoid discussing. “Parents should let them know that they will likely be talking about topics that they may feel embarrassed about, like puberty and periods. It is normal to feel shy, but discussing these things is an important part of their health,” Smith says.

Parents can also assure their daughters that nothing is off-limits if they have questions about their development or any issues they’re dealing with. “Even pop stars and movie stars see their gynecologist,” Gottesfeld adds. “There aren’t many questions that haven’t already been asked, and you’re not alone.” Smith agrees. “Gynecologists talk about these things all day, so there is nothing they should feel uncomfortable bringing up,” she says.

Gottesfeld wants women of all ages to understand that “your gynecologist is there to help.”

“The best way they can help is if you’re open and honest about what you want or feel you need,” she adds, so that adolescents can “get off to a good, healthy start in life.”