Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Posted by: Laura Morrison, MD, MPH
It seems like just yesterday that your daughter was learning to walk and saying her first words. Before you know it, she is asking for a cell phone because all her friends have them, and giggling or rolling her eyes when you try to talk to her about boys at school. Maybe she’s gotten old enough now that she has outgrown the princess stickers at the pediatrician’s office. Though it might feel way too early to you, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends establishing gynecological care for young women between ages 13-15.
During these years, a young woman’s body is undergoing rapid physical and emotional changes. Questions and issues that seem embarrassing often arise. By establishing a relationship with a gynecologic health care provider, you are giving your daughter a safe, neutral environment in which she may have her needs addressed. While we always encourage open, direct lines of communication between you and your daughter, it is important for her to feel that she is taking charge of her own health and that she is able to ask questions and not have her trust breached. You may also take comfort that she is getting her information from someone you trust and not from less reliable sources, such as her friends or the internet.
Contrary to popular belief, this first visit does not necessarily include a pelvic exam, speculum or pap smear, unless there is a medical reason to do so. Most parents and adolescent patients alike are relieved to realize this. Our focus at this time involves building trust, gathering history and educating young women about what is normal and what is not. I am often impressed with the misinformation that is prevalent in the young public, and am thankful that I have an opportunity to dispel some of the more common myths. I have also learned to have a healthy respect for the challenging questions and fresh outlook that my young patients bring to my practice.
Parents are often emphatic that their daughter is not sexually active and does not yet need gynecologic care. This is actually the ideal time to establish gynecologic care. With the onset of sexual activity, your daughter’s exposure to potential pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases has already occurred. The ideal time to intervene and educate is before she becomes sexually active. For the same reason, this is also the ideal time for her to be vaccinated against HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) to help prevent cervical cancer.
Common themes that may arise during an adolescent gynecologic visit include menstrual cramps, heavy or irregular periods, acne, mood swings, weight concerns, sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention. We can discuss these topics with your daughter in a safe, confidential, “grown-up” setting. If there is a medical issue that arises, we can address that, as well.
While we can’t tell you how old your daughter should be before she gets her first cell phone, we can encourage you to bring her in for her first gynecologic visit. It’s her first big step into womanhood, and you want it to be a confident, safe and trusted one.
Contact one of our offices to make an appointment for your teenage daughter today—gynecological care is provided by our physicians, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners in Portland, Oregon City, Tualatin, Canby and Newberg. If you know someone wrestling with the same issue, please share this information with them!
Dr. Laura Morrison is a board-certified OB/GYN physician and surgeon who sees patients at the Peterkort South Office of Women’s Healthcare Associates. She received her undergraduate degree in engineering and attended medical school at the University of Michigan. She also obtained her Master of Public Health degree and completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan. Her clinical interests include vulvar disorders, adolescent gynecology, preventive women's health, and delivering babies. She is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology.
Sources: Image - Getty Images