A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women's reproductive health. Obstetricians care for women during their pregnancy and just after the baby is born. They also deliver babies. An ob-gyn is trained to do all of these things.
Your ob-gyn will deal with some of the most important health issues in your life, including birth control, childbirth, and menopause. An ob-gyn can also screen for cancer, treat infections, and perform surgery for pelvic organ or urinary tract problems.
By Hilda Hutcherson, M.D.
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Because ob-gyns deal with such personal and sensitive health issues, the thought of seeing one, especially for the first time, may be troubling to some women. You might be nervous or embarrassed at having a doctor see the most private parts of your body. Or you may be reluctant to discuss your most intimate issues with an ob-gyn.
To take the dread out of your annual appointments, here are some tips on finding an ob-gyn you feel comfortable with and a preview of what to expect at your checkups.
Finding an Ob-Gyn You Trust
You wouldn't want to trust just anyone with the most sensitive parts of your body. That's why you need to think carefully about your choice of an ob-gyn.
Don't just randomly pull a doctor's name off your health insurance list. Get a referral from a friend, family member, or your primary care provider. Usually, your primary care provider can manage most screening procedures and will have a good referral resource if a specialist is needed.
As you're making a decision, consider whether you would prefer a male or female gynecologist. Some women are more comfortable going to a woman because they will have to undress completely during the exam.
Meet with the ob-gyn before making a decision. Ask about his or her medical experience, certification, and attitude about important reproductive issues, like birth control.
Your questions might include:
Do you accept my health insurance?
At which hospital do you have admitting privileges?
What are your office hours?
If you are not available when I need to see you, who will cover for you?
Make sure you're completely comfortable before becoming a patient.
What to Expect During Ob-Gyn Visits
When should you start seeing an ob-gyn? The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls have their first ob-gyn visit when they're 13 to 15 years old or they become sexually active, whichever comes first. The first visit for teens may just include a talk with the doctor and no exam.
Try to avoid having sex or douching within 24 hours of your appointment. Sexual activity could irritate the tissue of the vagina and affect your Pap test results.
Your appointment will usually start with a general health check. The nurse will weigh you and take your blood pressure. You may have blood and urine tests done, too.