Prenatal Testing: Part 1
The journey of pregnancy usually begins with a test – the resulting two pink lines, plus sign, or word “pregnant” appear and change your world forever. For many, this is the first of many tests to come throughout pregnancy.
So what should you expect when it comes to prenatal testing and what do those tests mean for you and your baby?
Here, we’ll break down the first round of tests, which most moms receive as part of routine care. Then in part 2, we’ll explain the next round of tests an expectant mother may choose to have if the first round yield a potential concern or if she desires more information because of family medical history, etc. It’s also important to keep in mind that there are two kinds of tests; a “screening” test will yield a risk factor, while a “diagnostic” test can confirm a diagnosis.
“First Round” Tests
These are the basic tests that are recommended for all pregnancies.
Blood tests – which can be both screening and diagnostic – are noninvasive and are used to gather relevant information like blood type, Rh factor and iron levels. Bloodwork may also be used to look for infections that can cause complications, such as Hepatitis B, syphilis and HIV. Increasingly, blood work is used as a screening test to determine risk factors for things such as genetic conditions. As with any testing, whether invasive or not, it’s a good rule of thumb to talk with your care provider about what information they’re hoping to gain from the test and what any results may mean for you and your care.
A urine test (or blood test) may be done to confirm your pregnancy at your first appointment. In addition, your care provider may ask you to take a urine test at every visit or periodically to assess your risk for diabetes, dehydration and preeclampsia by screening for high levels of sugars, proteins, ketones and bacteria.
Seeing your baby for the first time on ultrasound is something that many mothers anticipate from the moment they learned they were pregnant. Ultrasounds create a visual image by using high-frequency sound waves. It’s very common for care providers to use an ultrasound (vaginal or abdominal) early in the first trimester to determine a due date and then again in the second trimester to measure the baby’s growth and development.
Many non-medical facilities offer “recreational” ultrasounds (often in 3D or 4D) in which parents can see their baby and sometimes have the sex of the baby determined. Such facilities cannot diagnose or disclose anything about the health of the baby or the mother, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that “ultrasound exams be performed only for medical reasons by qualified health care providers.” It is always important to weigh potential benefits and risks regarding any test.
Gestational Diabetes Screening
In order to determine whether blood sugar levels are within a healthy range, a mother will typically take a glucose tolerance test during the second trimester of her pregnancy. An expectant mother will go to a lab, drink a sugary liquid, and then wait (usually an hour). Her blood is then drawn to determine how her body has processed the sugars. If the sugar levels are too high, a three-hour test will typically be done as a diagnostic tool. If gestational diabetes is then diagnosed, a mother may be prescribed a certain diet or medication to help manage it or additional testing may be recommended.
Read on in Part 2
Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer
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