Prenatal Testing

Now that you are pregnant, you are probably wondering how you can best ensure that both you and your baby remain strong and healthy. While eating a healthy pregnancy diet and participating in pregnancy exercise can help, it is also important to get proper prenatal testing. Prenatal testing can help you to monitor your baby's growth and development and will also inform you of any possible complications that your baby might be facing. There are a whole slew of tests that can be performed during pregnancy, so here's a quick overview on some of the tests you may receive.

Types of Prenatal Tests
There are a variety of different pregnancy tests that are available to you. Some prenatal tests are routinely performed on all pregnant women, while others are performed in special cases or upon request. Be sure to ask your health care provider which tests you should have to ensure your baby's prenatal health.

Routine Prenatal Tests
Routine prenatal tests are offered to all pregnant women and are performed at each and every visit with you health care provider. These include measurements of your blood pressure, to ensure that you aren't suffering from high blood pressure or pregnancy-induced hypertension. They also include a urine or blood test that analyzes the levels of protein in your blood. High levels of protein could indicate a urinary tract infection, which is common during pregnancy but does pose a risk to your fetus.

Other Pregnancy Tests

Other prenatal tests may also be performed throughout your pregnancy. Some are only performed once, while others may be performed multiple times.

RH Test
The RH test is performed to detect the possibility of RH disease, in which antibodies in a mother's blood attack her baby's blood. It is performed early in pregnancy. The test is a simple blood test that confirms the presence of RH antigen in your bloodstream. Women who test positive for the antigen are not at risk for the disease. Those who test negative will develop the disease unless they are given a special injection prior to their baby's birth.

Alpha-Fetaprotein (AFP)
This test is offered to every pregnant woman and is performed between the 15th and 18th week of pregnancy. It is a simple blood test that poses no risk to mother or baby. The AFP test analyzes your blood for the presence of alpha-fetaprotein, a special protein that your baby makes during development. High levels of AFP could indicate an increased risk of neural tube defects, like spina bifida, while low levels of AFP in your blood could indicate an increased risk for Down Syndrome. This test, however, is not 100% accurate, and can sometimes produce false positive results.

Triple Test
The triple test is available to every expectant mother and is generally performed between the 15th and 17th week of pregnancy. It is used to detect the possibility of chromosomal abnormalities or birth defects. It can also indicate the likelihood of premature birth or miscarriage in some women. Like the AFP, the triple test is a simple blood test, however it measures three separate ingredients in the blood: AFP, estriol, and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). High levels of AFP could indicate an increased risk of neural tube defects while low levels of AFP could indicate an increased risk for Down Syndrome. Abnormal levels of hCG or estriol are also considered markers for chromosomal abnormalities.

Fetal Ultrasound
Most pregnant women will undergo at least two fetal ultrasounds during their pregnancy, typically in the 10th and 20th week. Some health care providers provide ultrasounds more frequently. An ultrasound is a non-invasive test that poses no health risk to your or your baby. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of your baby. This image can then be analyzed for fetal growth, movement, birth presentation, and any malformations. Both 4d ultrasounds and 3d ultrasounds are now available.

Pregnancy ultrasounds are typically performed through the abdomen, though vaginal ultrasounds can also be performed. A special ultrasound gel is placed on your stomach and an instrument, called a transducer, is moved over the gel. This allows the sound waves to bounce through your belly, producing an ultrasound picture of your baby.

Combined First Trimester Screening (CFTS)
The CFTS is a maternal screen used to assess your baby's risk of Down Syndrome or Trisomy 18. It is a relatively new test that is now being offered to all pregnant women. Performed around the 10th week of pregnancy, the CFTS is often used instead of the AFP because it can be performed sooner and is associated with fewer false positives. The CFTS combines blood testing with the use of ultrasound in order to get an in-depth analysis of your baby's health.

A simple pinprick is used to take a sample of your blood, which is then tested for hCG and pregnancy associated plasma protein (PAPP-A). Abnormal levels could indicate an increased risk for Down Syndrome. A fetal ultrasound is then provided to allow for the measurement of the skin around your baby's neck; a thick layer of skin here is often associated with Trisomy 18.

Special Prenatal Tests

Special prenatal tests are sometime performed in order to check on particular aspects of your baby's health. If your child is at risk for particular genetic defects or disorders, or has had a positive AFP test, these special tests may be ordered by your health care provider.

Amniocentesis is a test that is used to detect risk of fetal abnormalities including genetic defects, neural tube defects, and chromosome abnormalities. It is typically performed between the 15th and 18th week of pregnancy. Using a needle, fluid is removed from the amniotic sac through your abdomen. This fluid is then analyzed for the presence genetic problems.

Amniocentesis is a highly accurate test, producing results that are 98% to 99% accurate. However, amniocentesis is associated with some prenatal risks. One out of every 400 women who receive amniocentesis miscarry as a result of infection or puncture to the amniotic sac.

Chorionic Villi Sampling (CVS)
CVS is also used to detect any chromosomal abnormalities or fetal disorders. It is generally performed 9 to 12 weeks after your last period. Using a needle, your health care provider will remove some of the cells from your placenta. The DNA of these cells is then analyzed for the presence of any genetic disorder. CVS is highly accurate, but is associated with some risk to you and your baby. 1 in 200 mothers who undergo CVS miscarry.

Find more information on pregnancy tests and pregnancy symptoms at our Pregnancy Signs and Tests page. Here, you'll also find an interactive due date calculator to find out when your baby will arrive!

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