Tests During Pregnancy
Tests during pregnancy
If there's one thing you can't escape when you're pregnant, it's tests! Of course it's normal to be nervous about them but take comfort in the fact that they're intended to make sure your baby's developing healthily. Your doctor will give you full information about each one, so you'll always know what to expect.
Tests to look after you and your baby
The most important thing to remember is that around 9 out of 10 pregnancies and births are normal. The tests during pregnancy are simply there to help ensure that any problems are caught as early as possible, giving your baby and you the best care during pregnancy. Some of them might sound a bit complicated but these are some of the routine tests:
Usually carried out around the 15-18 week stage of pregnancy, this diagnostic test looks to see whether your baby has Down's Syndrome or other chromosomal problems. You're more likely to be offered this test if you're over 35, have given birth to a child with any particular conditions or if you or your husband has a family history of genetic abnormalities.
You'll also be offered this test if you have a high risk result from blood tests or the nuchal translucency scan.
Before the test is performed, you will have an ultrasound scan to check your baby's position, the placenta and to confirm your dates. Then the skin over the womb is cleaned and a fine needle passed into the womb. A sample of the amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby is removed with a syringe and sent for testing. The position of the baby and the needle are monitored carefully during the scan by ultrasound.
Many mums say that the test is more uncomfortable than painful and feels similar to period pain. It takes around 25 minutes and you should have the results within a fortnight.
It's a good idea to take things easy for a couple of days after the test and to make sure you have help looking after any other children if you have them.
Amniocentesis is generally fairly safe and many women find that the benefits of the test (providing a diagnosis of possible abnormalities in their baby) outweigh any danger of complications. There is some risk associated though, with one in 200 women developing complications afterwards that can result in a miscarriage – so in order to make an informed decision, it's best that you talk it through with your doctor.
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is usually offered in the first trimester as an alternative to an amniocentesis test. The main difference is that it cannot detect spina bifida. It's normally offered to women over 35 who have a family history of genetic diseases or who have already had another child with a problem. The test takes about half an hour to complete and is a bit more painful than an amniocentesis. It involves taking a sample of choronionic villi cells, which are found on your placenta.
Once you've had the test, you'll need to take it easy for a couple of days. And as with an amniocentesis, a CVS test carries a tiny risk of miscarriage, so it's important to discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor before you go ahead.
Glucose tolerance tests
During the second half of pregnancy you may be screened for gestational diabetes which occurs in 2 to 3 mums-to-be out of 100. Those most at risk will tend to be over 35, obese and may have had it in a previous pregnancy. It is also more common for mums-to-be who are Indian, Afro-Caribbean or from the Middle East. This simple blood test will detect whether you have gestational diabetes or not.
Many mums-to-be are able to control gestational diabetes with a healthy diet and exercise programme. Occasionally, insulin injections will be necessary.
Routine blood tests
During your pregnancy you can expect to have quite a few blood tests. There's no need to worry, they're all completely routine. They check:
• Iron levels: If they're low you may feel tired and lethargic. You can try adding spinach and red meat to your diet to give you a boost and if a change of diet isn't enough to make a difference, you can be prescribed iron tablets so you don't become anaemic. As your levels can change during pregnancy you'll be tested again around the 28 week mark.
• Your blood group and Rhesus factor: Your doctor needs to know your blood group for medical records and also whether your blood is Rhesus positive (RH+) or Rhesus negative (RH-), as the two blood types are incompatible. If your blood is RH- and you're carrying a baby who is RH+, there is a possibility your body could produce antibodies to fight the RH+ blood cells. This could affect your baby later on in your pregnancy. By knowing in advance which blood group you are, your doctor can minimise the chance of any potential problems happening.
• German measles (also known as rubella): You were probably given injections as a child to immunise you against German measles. However, if blood tests reveal that you aren't immune, you'll need to avoid anyone who has the measles because it could harm your baby.
• Other diseases: Your blood will be tested for hepatitis B and syphilis as both can be harmful to your unborn baby.
• Toxoplasmosis: This is a parasite that's spread through cat's poo and meat that hasn't been properly cooked, and can be harmful to your unborn baby. Toxoplasmosis is not routinely tested for but talk to your doctor if you feel your baby could be at risk.
Your urine will be tested routinely during pregnancy for:
• Protein in your urine can be a sign of infection or contamination or, if accompanied with other symptoms, may indicate pre-eclampsia. This is a condition that can be serious for both mums and babies. Your doctor can give you more information or you can read about pre-eclampsia here.
• Urinary tract infections can give you problems later in pregnancy if left untreated but some don't tend to have any symptoms. A urine test will find them and they can then be easily treated with antibiotics.
• Glucose in your urine may indicate a high sugar diet or could just be that you have recently eaten sugary foods. If you repeatedly have glucose in your urine, it can be a sign of gestational diabetes which can be a problem for mother and baby but is easily treated with simple changes to diet and exercise habits.