With Women’s Health Week quickly approaching, there will be a barrage of articles online and in print that gives you advice on every aspect of your health. While becoming more aware of how to stay healthy is important, there’s one aspect of women’s health that is too often overlooked — advocacy.

Due largely to the gender bias that still persists in medical communities, women’s concerns about their health are often dismissed or not taken as seriously as they should be. Research has found that not only do women wait longer than men to be seen at a hospital or clinic, but that doctor’s take women’s painless seriously than they do men’s. The struggle gets even more real when it comes to conditions like endometriosis, which can take up to 10 years to diagnose.

When it comes to your reproductive health, you are and will always need to be your own advocate. However, since the destigmatization of menstruation hasn’t found it’s way from Instagram to the medical community, this can be a challenge. Here are a few ways you can advocate for your reproductive health.

  1. Ask questions

This may seem obvious but many women do not ask the questions they want to and leave the doctor’s office confused and unsure. For some, this is due to embarrassment but, don’t worry, your doctor has seen and heard it all. They are professionals whose job it is to help you. Ask questions and then ask more of them until you get an answer that satisfies you.

If you aren’t sure what to ask, let your doctor know that you’d like more information.

  1. Do your own research 

If you have a health concern, be sure to do some research before and after you visit your doctor. This can help you better understand the questions that need to be asked, and give you a full picture of possible diagnostic and treatment options.

When researching, be sure that you’re getting information from credible sources. Typically, sources sponsored by nonprofit health or medical organizations, university medical centers, and the U.S. Government are your best option. There are also reliable publications like Healthline and WebMD that provide quality information on a number of health-related topics.

Letting your doctor know that you’ve done your research can prompt them to give more detailed information that will allow you more control over your reproductive health.

  1. Know your body

Knowledge is power. That means that understanding how your body works make you a force to be reckoned with. Brush up on how your reproductive system works, what can cause infertility, and the basics of your cervix to start with. Don’t be afraid to dig in — there are abundant resources that can help you learn more about your reproductive health.

When you have at least a basic knowledge of these things, it can make you feel more confident if and when you need to advocate for yourself.

  1. Insist on a second (or third) opinion

While you may not need a second opinion for a cold or a sore throat, your reproductive health is a different story. Doctors, while intelligent and educated, are not all-knowing. Sometimes a second opinion can give you answers (or options) that one doctor could not. If you feel like you need a second (or third, or fourth) opinion, then you do.

  1. Always trust your gut

On that note, the most important way you can advocate for your health, reproductive or otherwise, is to listen to your body. You know your body better than anyone else does, so if something feels off, speak up. Though it may feel uncomfortable to demand answers, sometimes it’s necessary.

Despite what research says about doctors not taking women’s pain seriously, your reproductive health matters. Not all doctors are dismissive, so if yours is, don’t hesitate to look for a new one. When it comes to your health, yours is the voice that matters most. The more each of us advocates for our own health, the easier it will be for other women to do the same.

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