/ by Hatim Omar, MD
Young girls going through puberty have a lot of questions. Should I be having periods already? Are my periods normal? Are my breasts too small or too large? Do my private areas look normal?
In the electronic age, many of them may seek answers on the internet or from peers, both of which may share information that is more harmful than helpful. However, the best way to get answers is to see your healthcare provider.
But many parents may wonder if they should take their daughter to a gynecologist to get these concerns addressed. Here's what you should know about the differences between seeing your pediatrician or adolescent medicine provider and a gynecologist.
What a pediatrician and an adolescent medicine specialist can provide
Many questions and concerns can be answered by your pediatrician at each annual visit. Remember, it is never too early to talk about reproductive health issues, including pregnancy prevention, birth control and sexuality. Knowledge is always better than ignorance, and prevention is more effective and better than any treatment.
Generally, including a genital exam as part of the full body exam by the pediatrician is a good way to assure girls that they are normal. Once they are in their teens, your daughter may also start seeing an adolescent medicine specialist for their care if one is available. Adolescent medicine providers are trained to provide education on all reproductive health issues and are generally proactive in providing appropriate information for age.
If your teen doesn't have any specific complaints, a full pelvic exam is generally not necessary. Even when something might appear abnormal or there are specific concerns, your adolescent medicine provider or pediatrician are capable of addressing most problems.
What a gynecologist can provide
Most teens are more comfortable with their current healthcare provider than going to an adult gynecologist office. If your teen does want to see a gynecologist, try finding one who specializes in adolescent issues.
You can be referred to a gynecologist if:
1. Your pediatrician is not comfortable with addressing reproductive health issues and your daughter has a specific complaint.
2. Your pediatrician has detected an abnormality that needs to be treated by a gynecologist.
3. Your daughter is pregnant and needs prenatal care.
4. Your daughter did not see any healthcare provider for a long time, is now sexually active, needs birth control and there are no adolescent medicine providers in your area.
5. Your daughter is 21 years old and needs her first Pap smear, but her current provider is not comfortable doing it.
Want to know more? Here are a few excellent resources for parents and teens regarding reproductive health for young women that I highly recommend: