Many women associate visits to their gynecologist with birth control prescriptions or pregnancy check-ups. However, a gynecologist is an important part of your healthcare team who is needed for more aspects than just these visits.
For instance, your gynecologist can help you understand how your reproductive system works, teach you about protecting yourself during sex, and answer any questions or concerns you may have about your reproductive system and sexual health.
Regular well-woman care visits are important to ensure you are healthy and to prevent problems from arising in the future.
You should see a gynecologist if you suspect that you have reproductive issues, are pregnant, for pre- and post-menopausal care and for annual visits. Other reasons to see a gynecologist include:
When should you see a gynecologist for the first time?
Going to the gynecologist for the first time may seem a little intimidating. Determining when is the right time depends on your own situation.
Experts recommend that between the ages of 11 and 18, young women should continue to see their pediatrician or family doctor for most concerns. Any health concerns regarding the female reproductive system, however, warrant a visit to the gynecologist. This may include changes in menstruation, delayed puberty or the inability to use a tampon.
Ideally, the first visit should happen before a woman becomes sexually active. This is a good time to talk about reproductive health, what is and isn't normal, and to figure out contraception. Women who are 21 years old or older need to visit the gynecologist to have regular Pap smears.
If you are ready to have a baby, visiting the gynecologist before conception may help. Gynecologists who also provide pregnancy care are known as obstetrician-gynecologists, or OB/GYNs. You can learn more about ovulation, get a check-up to ensure you are healthy and begin taking prenatal vitamins.
If you are having problems with conception, the OB/GYN can help determine if there are any problems and refer you to a fertility specialist if necessary.
During pregnancy, you should regularly visit your OB/GYN. Visits will be scheduled approximately:
Your OB/GYN will help prepare you for birth and deliver your baby. After you give birth, you will visit your OB/GYN several more times. They will check to see if your uterus is shrinking as normal, check your C-section or episiotomy incisions, look for symptoms of postpartum depression and help you choose safe contraceptives you may want going forward.
The average age that a woman goes through menopause is 51 years old, though it can begin as early as in her 40s. Menopause marks the end of menstrual cycles and fertility. Perimenopause is the time before menopause as the body prepares to enter the process. This can be marked with lighter, heavier or irregular periods. Visiting the gynecologist when you are perimenopausal is a good way to ensure your period irregularities are expected rather than abnormal.
Women who are past menopause should also continue to visit their gynecologist. Doctors recommend that Pap smears continue through the age of 65. Visits after menopause may also be needed for vaginal or vulva irritation or dryness, incontinence or suspected pelvic organ prolapse.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pelvic exams are recommended annually. Pap smears should occur at least every 3 years as long as previous tests have been normal. Abnormal Pap smears may warrant more frequent tests or exams. During these exams, your gynecologist will screen you for any problems with your vagina, uterus, cervix, ovaries or Fallopian tubes.
Your gynecologist will be with you for many important stages of life, so it’s important to find one who you trust. Find a doctor that offers high-quality, compassionate care so that you will feel comfortable regularly visiting them for all of your health needs.