When you’re pregnant, seeing your obstetrician on a regular basis tends to become a welcome part of your monthly – and eventually weekly – routine.
But once your little one arrives? Beyond the postpartum check-up, many mothers don’t see a reason to return to their doctor unless something is wrong.
The same goes for women who are young and in good health, often between ages 20 to 40 and with no underlying medical issues. These women may only come in for an annual visit, if that.
“They’re not really closely keeping track of when their last pap smear was, they may be young and healthy and not feel like they need to come back,” he says.
But preventive care is critical. “Even though it seems like we‘re not doing anything, we’re actually screening for many things,” Dr. Sibson points out. “It’s always good to be proactive about your health.”
That includes seeing your OB-GYN for services that you may not even realize are offered. Here’s a look at the top five reasons to see your gynecologist that you may not have considered.
1. Birth control options
Everyone knows their OB-GYN can prescribe birth control, of course, but did you know all the options available? Most women don’t, Dr. Sibson says.
“There are a lot of new options,” he says. “If the pill didn’t work well for somebody, there are so many different pills to try. Just because you had a problem with one pill, another pill might be fine for you.”
And the options go far beyond oral contraceptives, including intrauterine devices, an under-the-skin implant and non-hormonal alternatives.
Already on birth control? Then your annual visits with your gynecologist are even more important, so your doctor can evaluate your blood pressure and other factors.
2. Cancer screenings
Women should see their OB-GYN to discuss screenings for cervical cancer, breast cancer and other concerns. Although recommendations vary for pap smear frequency, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your family history and what screenings you may need and when.
“Unfortunately, breast cancer happens fairly often. Cervical cancer, thankfully, is more rare nowadays but it still happens. People get scared of going to the doctor, but ignoring the cancer doesn’t make it go away,” says Dr. Sibson, who encourages monthly self-exams for breast changes. “If they notice something not quite right, it’s important that they come in for an evaluation.”
3. Help for heavy periods
Many women deal with heavy periods each month but few seek treatment for it.
“They’re used to changing a tampon every hour and they don’t know that’s abnormal,” Dr. Sibson says. “They wouldn’t know to ask about it or even know that there’s treatment for it.”
Possible treatment options include birth control pills, an IUD or other interventions.
While some cycle changes are to be expected over time, women should also know that heavy periods can be a sign of underlying issues.
“It’s important to look at everything that could potentially be going on there,” Dr. Sibson says.
4. Vaginal health check-ups
Seeing an OB-GYN is the best way to address concerns about vaginal irritation, odor, unusual discharge or other symptoms.
“Those could be warning signs that something’s going on,” Dr. Sibson explains. “Anything that feels different probably needs to be checked out.”
Your doctor can check for yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, sexually transmitted diseases and other problems that can cause vaginal symptoms.
5. Preconception counseling
Thinking about getting pregnant? Make an appointment with your OB-GYN sooner rather than later.
“It’s an important visit,” Dr. Sibson says. “It makes sure things are optimized before they get pregnant.”
That includes getting on a prenatal vitamin with folic acid at least three months before getting pregnant, talking to your doctor about genetic screening and making sure any ongoing medical conditions are under control.
“If they’re early in the process and haven’t been through a pregnancy before, it’s very important,” he says. “That dovetails into fertility – talking to them about their periods, making sure that those are normal and they’re not having anything else that raises a red flag for us that might present a problem for fertility down the road.”
What’s at risk
For these services and more, seeing your OB-GYN is a key part of prioritizing your health. In some cases, a gynecologist can be the first to notice a patient’s high blood pressure, thyroid problems, signs of depression or other issues.
“Most people feel fine, therefore they don’t think they have to come in, and most people would be right,” Dr. Sibson says. “But there are things that could be underlying that you wouldn’t know unless you check for it.”
Regular visits also help establish a relationship with your doctor.
“We see women a lot during a pregnancy and we develop a good rapport. When you’ve got a good rapport with your doctor, you’re much more likely to open up about things or mention something that seems minor. That might be a clue to something really important,” Dr. Sibson explains. “And it’s important for us to know our patients. If we see them and something seems a little off, we can say, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this or that?’ For both sides of that equation, it’s important to be comfortable with each other and be able to recognize those things when they’re going on.”