Prenatal Testing

Prenatal Testing and Prenatal Tests

Prenatal testing and regular prenatal care visits with your health care provider can help keep you and your baby healthy.  Prenatal testing is used to detect birth defects and other conditions.

Prenatal Testing

Doctor Visits and Prenatal Visits

If you are like most pregnant women, there are times when you have thoughts and concerns about your baby's health. To help reduce your concerns, and those that your health care provider may have, there are prenatal tests that can help evaluate the health and progress of you and your developing child.  Since it is ultimately up to you to decide if the prenatal tests suggested are in fact done, it is important to take the time to educate yourself about these tests and to think about what you would do if a problem is detected.

Prenatal care, or regular visits to your doctor or midwife, are very important. As part of your prenatal care your health care provider may suggest a number of laboratory tests, ultrasound exams, or other screening tests.  The purpose of these tests is to detect birth defects or other health problems.

These prenatal tests include both invasive and non-invasive methods of diagnosing a problem before birth. Typically the initial tests are non-invasive and only if some problem is suspected is a more invasive prenatal test suggested.

It is important for you to recognize that prenatal tests are not mandatory but rather are options for you and your health care provider to consider. It is becoming more common for a woman to decline invasive prenatal tests (not prenatal care) since many women who have abnormal test results end up having a healthy child and since many of the problems that are detected cannot be treated.  A woman may also decline some of the prenatal tests because she does not want to contemplate what she will do if a birth defect is discovered.

Prenatal tests include the following:

  • Taking a blood sample to check your blood type and Rh factor, to check for anemia (a low red blood cell count), to make sure you are not iron deficient, to see if you have Hepatitis B, syphilis or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and to establish if you have immunity to German measles and chickenpox.

  • Cervical test (also called Pap smear) to look for cervical cancer and for sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

  • Ultrasound looks for potential problems and in usually done between 18-20 weeks of pregnancy.

  • Detection of fetal blood cells in maternal blood.

  • Non stress test (NST) can determine if your baby is responding normally to stimuli and is receiving enough oxygen. Your health care provider may recommend this if you have a high-risk pregnancy or if you have a low-risk pregnancy but are past your due date.

  • Contraction Stress Test involves the stimulation of the uterus to determine the effect of contractions on fetal heart rate. It is typically done when a non stress test indicates a problem.

  • Amniocentesis can be done once the amniotic fluid has developed. It involves inserting a thin needle through your abdomen, into your uterus, and into the amniotic sac to take out a small amount of amniotic fluid to look for chromosomal abnormalities.

  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is an alternative prenatal test to an amniocentesis,  It involves the insertion of a needle through your abdomen or the insertion of a catheter through your cervix in order to reach the placenta so that some of the cells from the placenta can be removed and tested for chromosomal abnormalities.

  • Embroscopy and fetoscopy involves putting a probe (with a video camera) into your uterus to observe or taking a blood or tissue sample from the baby.

Other tests based on your personal medical history may include:

  • Glucose screening for gestational diabetes, a short-term form of diabetes that develops in 1% to 3% of pregnancies and can cause health problems for the baby. 

  • Testing for protein can reveal possible preeclampsia which is a condition that develops in late pregnancy and is characterized by a sudden rise in blood pressure, excessive weight gain and fluid retention.

  • Group B streptococcus (GBS) infection. GBS bacteria are found naturally in the vaginas of many women and can cause serious infections in newborns. This test involves swabbing the vagina, usually between the 35th and 37th weeks of pregnancy.

  • Sickle cell trait tests for women of African or Mediterranean descent who are at higher risk for having sickle cell anemia.

  • Triple Screen blood test, also called multiple marker screening test, triple test, and quad screen checks for birth defects such as Down syndrome, trisomy 18, or open neural tube defects.

  • Percutaneous Umbilical Blood Sampling (PUBS) involves inserting a needle into the umbilical vein. It is primarily used in addition to an ultrasound and amniocentesis to quickly check your baby for chromosome defects.

Remember that although your health care provider may recommend certain prenatal tests, it is your final decision that counts.  In order for you to decide which tests are right for you, it is important to carefully discuss the reasons your health care provider is suggesting certain tests, what the risks and benefits are, what the results will and will not tell you, and how accurate the tests results are at correctly predicting a problem.

For additional information, please visit the link Prenatal Care.

Additional Information

Kids Health: Prenatal testing

Wikipedia: Prenatal diagnosis

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