7 Things Your Gyno Wants You to Know
During pregnancy, we naturally feel in tune with our most intimate equipment. (Hosting a human in one’s uterus will do this to a person.) But once that baby’s busy growing up, our vagina is no longer a top priority. Unfortunately, this can lead to overlooked opportunities or misunderstandings—the kind that have the potential to make life harder at a time when it’s already hard enough. While you don’t need to become a walking encyclopedia to take good care of yourself, these essentials are worth reviewing.
It’s a good idea to see your gynecologist even if you’re not planning to get pregnant.
These days, that might mean an appointment in person or via phone or video call, depending on your health history and needs. “I tell patients that they are more than a cervix to me,” says Kate White, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine. “You don’t lose your breasts or ovaries or cervix after you have a baby. You may still need your organs checked,” says Dr. White. Current guidelines recommend that most women get a Pap smear every three years, but a relatively recent one also doesn’t grant you a get-out-of-the-gyno-free card. Your annual exam (or video chat) is a chance to discuss issues like sex and fertility and to touch base about various aspects of your health. This applies even if your baby-making days are over. “The gyno may be the only doctor you see, so if you need to have a conversation about depression or even domestic violence, you should absolutely have it with your ob-gyn,” says Sherry A. Ross, M.D., author of She-ology, the She-quel.
You may not be too young for a breast-cancer screening.
Although the American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 45 to 54 get screened annually (other organizations recommend starting annual exams at 40), all women should know that, depending on your family history, you may be eligible for BRCA screening, a test that detects gene mutations that can make you susceptible to breast or ovarian cancer. “Women who have family members with breast, ovarian, fallopian-tube, or peritoneal cancers may be at risk,” says Dr. Ross. Pay attention to the medical histories of your mother, sisters, and maternal aunts and grandmother, particularly if they were diagnosed under age 50. In addition, your gynecologist will perform a breast exam at each visit.
You don’t have to resign yourself to lifelong leakage.
Labor and delivery can do a number on pelvic-floor muscles, whether you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean. In fact, “just being pregnant and having that weight bearing down can do damage,” says Dr. White. As a result, after having a baby, dribbling pee when you sneeze, cough, or laugh is normal. However, if it’s more than a little or it persists longer than a year, see your doctor. Urogynecologists or pelvic-floor physical therapists can help you strengthen your pelvic floor, either through exercises or, if you’re done having kids, through surgery.
In the meantime, Kegel exercises can help. But Dr. White stresses that you have to commit to them. “It takes a lot of reps and time to see a difference,” she says. “You wouldn’t expect to get Michelle Obama’s arms by lifting weights for two weeks, and likewise, your vagina’s not going to get stronger instantly.” Start with 10 repetitions, and work up to five to 10 sets per day. “Do a set in the morning, at each meal, and at bedtime. That’s five right there!” says Dr. White.
There are things you can do about PMS.
Before you try over-the-counter relief (or grab a pint of Chunky Monkey), know that there are other ways to calm symptoms. “Taking 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 250 milligrams of magnesium daily reduces physical and mood symptoms of PMS in some women; your doctor can determine if mineral supplements might help you. Combining magnesium with a vitamin B6 supplement can also be beneficial,” says Pari Ghodsi, M.D., an ob-gyn in Los Angeles.
Another great remedy is exercise. “Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly can have less painful period cramps,” says Dr. Ghodsi.
Infertility can affect anyone, even if you’ve already had a baby.
While getting pregnant is a good indication of your fertility status, time marches on. “There isn’t a magic age when fertility drops, but we do know that it gets harder to become pregnant the older you get,” says Dr. White. “Having had a baby is a great sign that all your parts work, but it doesn’t mean the next pregnancy will happen as easily.” In fact, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that between 2006 and 2010, more than 3 million women who already had at least one child reported difficulty getting or staying pregnant later on. “Don’t wait more than about six months of actively trying before talking with your doctor,” recommends Dr. White.
- RELATED: 7 Myths About Infertility
Sex shouldn’t be painful, even for new moms.
You might think that painful sex after giving birth is inevitable—after all, that area has been through a lot. But there’s one word that should never be uttered in the bedroom: ouch. “Pain during sex is a sign that something is wrong,” says Dr. White. “If you’re having any sort of vaginal discomfort during sex—or at all—see your doctor.” Painful intercourse can point to a number of issues: a ruptured cyst, endometriosis, or even a urinary-tract infection. “Any kind of persistent pelvic discomfort, whether it’s cycle-, sex-, or exercise-related, is important to bring to your gyno’s attention,” she says.
Your body doesn’t need time to “clear out” birth control before becoming fertile again.
If you’ve been using a hormonal birth-control method, you might think you need to wait a few months before you can get pregnant. Nope. Your body should be all systems go within 48 hours of stopping the Pill or getting your IUD removed. The exception is the Depo-Provera shot, which can delay fertility for about a year. While you should start taking a prenatal vitamin, don’t be fooled by products that claim to flush your body in preparation for pregnancy. “You certainly do not need a cleanse or a fast when you stop taking hormones,” says Dr. White. “Your brain will go right back to producing the hormones needed to prepare your body for pregnancy once you quit using your birth control.”
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's July 2020 issue as “A Refresher Course on Gyno Health.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here