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When it comes to the female body and reproductive health, it can be hard to know what’s “normal” or what your body needs due to often-conflicting information that exists. Like many women, you may be wondering what’s going on in your body or if you’re healthy, but haven’t yet talked about it with your healthcare provider. However, getting the answers to your health questions is an important part of understanding your body and its health needs.
Fortunately, gynecologists and healthcare providers are here to help you navigate health concerns. After all, it’s a gynecologist’s job to help you understand your body and listen to your needs over time. Take advantage of this resource and go to your appointments prepared with questions about your current health, any symptoms, or any changes to expect as you age.
Download the printable wellness worksheet above and use it to write down any health-related questions you have for your gynecologist or healthcare provider. Bring it with you to your next appointment to guide you as you discuss your health.
The menstrual cycle, or a woman’s period, typically starts between the ages of 8 and 15 years old, and continues until a woman reaches menopause. Generally, bleeding lasts about three to five days and may be accompanied by symptoms like cramping, food cravings, fatigue, lower back pain, or changes in your mood. Below are some important questions to consider asking about your menstrual cycle.
Everyone is different when it comes to their menstrual cycle, including the heaviness and length of time of their blood flow. Menstrual flows can range from light to heavy and may fluctuate based on your hormones, activity level, diet, or other health/lifestyle factors.
That said, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to see if your menstrual flow is typical based on your lifestyle, age, and overall health. If it’s not, they can recommend steps to take next—if necessary—to help determine why your menstrual flow may be lighter or heavier than normal.
Typically, a non-pregnant woman regularly menstruates once a month until she begins transitioning into menopause (this transition phase is known as perimenopause). If you miss one or more periods, this could be a sign of perimenopause, pregnancy, stress, or other changes in your health or lifestyle.
Keeping track of when you have your menstrual cycle and noticing any changes or gaps in regularity is important so that you can bring this up with your healthcare provider.
There are many different factors that can contribute to an irregular period cycle. While it may reflect lifestyle factors or changes that come with age (like perimenopause) and not be cause for too much concern, it’s best to check in with your gynecologist if you are experiencing irregular or abnormal periods. It could be related to an underlying medical condition like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or premature ovarian insufficiency.
Signs that you are experiencing a menstrual problem or abnormal period could include cycles that occur less than 21 days apart or more than 35 days apart, missing a period more than three months in a row, or bleeding/spotting between periods.
If you’re sexually active, it’s important to discuss protection and safe sex options with your gynecologist or healthcare provider. They can help you understand how to best practice safe sex to avoid contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection). Additionally, based on your sexual activity, age, and other factors, your gynecologist can discuss recommended screening measures (including testing frequency) and birth control options.
Whether you are looking to prevent pregnancy and/or STIs, there are several different protection options available for both men and women. Of those protection options, the most common are barrier birth control methods (for example, condoms), birth control pills, and long-acting reversible contraceptives (like IUDs).
Ask your gynecologist about the different options available to figure out what’s best for your body to help prevent an infection and/or unwanted pregnancy.
If you’re sexually active, it’s common for your gynecologist to recommend vaccinations to reduce your risk of getting various sexually transmitted infections. Currently, vaccines are available to protect against infection from HPV and hepatitis B.
If you have sex (oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse) you can get an STI. Even if you use protection like condoms, there are still risks if you’re sexually active. Common symptoms of STIs may include painful urination, abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, genital pain, or bleeding between periods.
While some STIs can be asymptomatic, it’s important to discuss potential exposure with your gynecologist and to regularly test for STIs. This will help you get any treatments you may need, and it’ll help keep your partner safe, as well.
As mentioned above, many STIs can be asymptomatic, meaning that you could have an infection and have no symptoms for a long period of time (or ever). Just because you don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean the infection is any less harmful, though.
If you’re sexually active your gynecologist may recommend that you get tested for STIs at least once a year, or more, depending on factors like your age and how many sexual partners you have—making this an important conversation to have with your doctor.
An annual wellness exam with your gynecologist should be an essential part of your health regimen each year, and it’s a great way to continue to monitor your health and get any of your questions answered about your physical, sexual, or reproductive health. Below are some common questions to keep in mind next time you have your annual check-up.
In the United States, a woman’s risk of breast cancer is approximately 12% (about one in eight). While breast cancer cannot be prevented, early detection can make a huge difference in the course of treatment. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, regular screening mammography starting at age 40 reduces breast cancer mortality in average-risk women.
Experts recommend that women learn about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Women are advised to notify their OB/GYN or healthcare provider if they notice any changes in their breasts such as pain, a mass, nipple discharge, or redness. If you are unsure about your symptoms or your potential risk, you’re encouraged to discuss this further with your healthcare provider.
A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer significantly increases if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. However, it’s important to note that not all people with a BRCA mutation will develop cancer.
The decision to get tested for BRCA mutations is up to you; however, based on your genetic and/or medical history, your OB/GYN or healthcare provider may recommend you receive a test. Having an open conversation about your risk or concerns with your healthcare provider could potentially help increase your chances of early detection, which typically makes cancers easier to treat.
Depending on your lifestyle and age, your doctor may recommend different tests or screenings during your annual checkup. In order to stay on top of your health, ask your gynecologist if you should be paying special attention to any area of your health or if you should have anything “checked out.”
The entire point of having regular checkups is to make sure you're at optimal health, so sometimes you just need to ask if you are healthy and if everything looks normal. Your gynecologist or healthcare provider should not only be checking aspects of your reproductive health, but also evaluating other areas of your health like your mental well-being. Asking this question and being able to check all the boxes for your overall wellness can be a great feeling and help eliminate anxiety or answer questions you’ve had about your health.
If you’ve noticed any changes to your body, such as unplanned weight loss or weight gain, unusual discharge, or changes in your mood, this is your time to bring it up with your gynecologist. They could be nothing to worry about or your body’s way of telling you that something is off. Either way, staying in tune with your body and having regular check-ins with your healthcare provider is vital for maintaining your health.
Deciding to have a baby is a big decision, but oftentimes, a lot more goes into conceiving than just deciding it’s time. Factors like your age and partner’s age, fertility, and hormones all play a role in determining when you will conceive. Discussing getting pregnant with your gynecologist is a great idea for both you and your partner to be on the same page and know what to expect before expecting.
Even if you don’t intend to get pregnant anytime soon, you may have questions about family planning or your “biological clock” that you want answered. Below, we’ve listed some important questions about getting pregnant to ask your gynecologist.
As soon as a couple begins trying to get pregnant, conception doesn’t always happen right away. On average, a 25 to 30-year-old woman has about a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month, provided there aren’t any undiagnosed fertility issues. Over the course of a year, the average woman’s chances of conceiving are 90% (assuming, again, no underlying complications exist). These numbers gradually decrease as you age.
So it may take some time to actually get pregnant, and that’s not unusual. In fact, according to one study, conception occurs for most couples within 6 menstrual cycles after timed intercourse. If you want to get pregnant faster, consider discussing best practices with your gynecologist, who will likely have insight on what days your fertility is the highest, or any other tips that can help increase your chances of getting pregnant each month.
Tracking your fertility window and knowing when you are ovulating each month is a great way to increase your chances of getting pregnant when trying to conceive. You can use a fertility tracker or a calendar to track your fertility. (To get more insight into your fertility, take an at-home fertility test for women to learn if key hormones are balanced to support normal ovarian function needed for pregnancy.)
With an average 28-day cycle, ovulation will typically occur on one day between the 11th and 21st cycle days. Once you can pinpoint when you are ovulating and have your fertility window, you can predict when you’ll be most likely to get pregnant. While this is a general rule of thumb, your gynecologist may have the best recommendations on how to increase your fertility, or if there are alternative methods you should try to optimize your fertility.
If you’ve been using a form of birth control like the pill, patch, or an IUD, it’s good to know when to stop using it if you want to get pregnant. Your gynecologist may recommend that you discontinue hormonal birth control for a few months before the time that you plan to start trying to conceive.
This is a common question that women have, and the answers may vary for everyone based on one’s body and the type of birth control used.
If you’re having difficulty getting pregnant, you may consider asking your gynecologist about fertility treatment options, which may include: stimulating ovulation with fertility drugs, intrauterine insemination (IUI), surgery to restore fertility, or using assisted reproductive technology.
Luckily, there are a lot of different options out there for couples who are having a hard time conceiving. Keeping your gynecologist in the loop with your progress or any challenges you are having is one of the best ways to find the best solution for you.
When you’re pregnant, ways to keep your body and your baby healthy is often top of mind. If you have any questions on how to best do this, don’t hesitate to ask your gynecologist. Below we’ve outlined some great questions to ask your gynecologist to help protect both you and your baby during the pregnancy.
Make sure you have a discussion with your obstetrician or gynecologist (OB/GYN) on when your next appointment should be—it’s important to stay up to date on your baby’s development.
For an uncomplicated pregnancy, women should plan to see their provider about every four weeks during the first 28 weeks, every two weeks between 28 and 36 weeks, and weekly from 36 weeks to delivery.
If you are having any health complications, your doctor may recommend more frequent appointments.
The best way to keep your baby healthy is to make sure you are healthy. This includes maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and not consuming alcohol or recreational drugs of any kind. Be sure to discuss any medications or supplements that you are taking with your healthcare provider.
Other than the general best practices to maintain good health, your OB/GYN may recommend that you make some changes to your lifestyle or diet—whether they want you to incorporate different foods into your diet or start taking prenatal vitamins, it’s important to keep in touch on this.
Writing a birth plan may be beneficial as it can help you organize your thoughts around your options for labor and your baby’s care. At some point during your pregnancy, it can be a good idea to have a conversation with your OB/GYN on whether or not to create a birth plan. If you decide to write one up, they may also have great insight on what to include to help make sure all of your birthing wishes are followed during labor and delivery.
During your pregnancy, it’s important to know if and when you’ll expect labor symptoms and what they might feel like. Your OB/GYN is a great resource to help you know what to expect or what’s “normal,” whether you're preparing for a vaginal delivery or having a C-section.
You may also want to discuss the different stages of labor with your doctor so that you’re informed about every stage and can make a decision on when to go to the hospital or birthing center.
After you’ve given birth, it’s important to know what to expect from your body after delivering the baby. Some of these changes may be visibly noticeable to you, like your breasts producing more milk. Others may be psychological, like changes in your mood or feeling extra stress. Getting a framework from your OB/GYN on what you can expect or symptoms to be wary of can help eliminate any anxiety or uncertainty you have as you undergo another new stage in your life.
Whether you have a vaginal delivery or C-section, you’ll have vaginal discharge and bleeding after giving birth. Postpartum hemorrhage or bleeding is usually the heaviest right after you give birth—but if it continues, you should call your healthcare provider to check if everything is normal.
Many new moms experience postpartum "baby blues" after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. These changes in your mood could start a few days after giving birth and can last up to two weeks.
While this may be normal and healthy, having severe, long-lasting symptoms of depression is not at all beneficial—as a new mother could be suffering from postpartum depression. With this in mind, regularly check in with your healthcare provider and let them know if you’ve noticed any unusual changes in your mood or energy levels so that they can find the best solution for you.
Based on how your delivery went and how you're feeling, your OB/GYN may provide recommendations on when you can return to your normal routine, exercise, diet, etc., that are specific to you and your body’s needs.
Additionally, if you're breastfeeding, your healthcare provider may also have specific dietary recommendations for you to follow—all the more reason to clarify when you can return to your usual routine.
There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both newborns and mothers. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants, and the antibodies found within breastmilk help protect the infant from many types of illness and disease.
If you are breastfeeding, most experts recommend you do so for up to six months, but this may vary based on your body and your baby’s specific needs.
As you age, it’s normal to experience changes in your body. However, some of these changes may come with symptoms that negatively impact your quality of life—so ask your healthcare provider about prevention and management.
Vaginal dryness is a common symptom for women as they age and as they go through menopause (since hormone levels change). Typically, vaginal dryness is the result of decreased levels of estrogen. With that in mind, your gynecologist may recommend estrogen treatments to help increase your estrogen levels.
The process of menopause does not happen overnight, but is instead a gradual process. The average age of menopause is 51, but may occur as early as the 30s or as late as the 60s.
Speaking with your healthcare provider about your family history related to menopause—and other factors—may help predict when you’ll transition into menopause or what symptoms you can expect.
Urinary incontinence, or bladder leaks, is when a person leaks urine unintentionally—which is more likely to occur as a woman ages. This can happen for a number of reasons, but it’s frequently due to the weakening of the bladder or pelvic floor. Luckily, bladder leaks can be cured or controlled, so if this is a concern of yours, reach out to your gynecologist.
During and after menopause, the physical effects of falling estrogen levels can result in a decreased sexual desire and drive. Since this is common for many women, your gynecologist will likely have information on the best ways to boost your sex drive.
Life can get pretty busy, so download and print out the women’s health calendar above if you’d like to keep track of important health events or reminders in your life. We've also provided women’s health stickers that we encourage you to use to help you stay organized with important dates—whether it’s remembering your next appointment, your fertility window, or being in-the-know about any perceived changes to your health.
Now that you have a good idea of questions to ask your gynecologist during the different stages of your life, be prepared to answer some of their questions as well.
We’ve outlined a few common questions that are good to keep in mind and know the answers to before you arrive at your next appointment. This can help make your discussion more informative so that you can really take advantage of your time with your gynecologist.
Remember, having a dialogue with your healthcare provider is important—so don’t hesitate to speak up and ask questions when it comes to your body. We understand that it may feel uncomfortable to discuss the most intimate parts of your health, but you’re not alone—many women have these conversations with their healthcare provider, and you’ll probably be glad you did. Here, we’ve listed some quick tips to remember so that you can get the most out of your appointments:
To further stay on top of your health, you may want to consider taking an at-home health test to check your hormones, test for STIs, and more. It’s always encouraged to share your results with your healthcare provider.
Being an advocate for you and your health is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. We hope this guide helps you feel even more empowered to get to know your body and maintain frequent communication with your healthcare provider. While we only outline some of the most common questions that women have, you may have found that there are others you have on your mind when it comes to your body and health, so don’t hesitate to ask those questions—you’ll be glad that you did.
If you’re waiting for your next appointment and need some quick answers, here are some additional resources that provide information on various women’s health topics.