Pregnancy is a unique time in your life and for your body. Your body goes through many changes. Your doctor will monitor your and your baby’s health throughout the pregnancy. He or she will rely on a number of tests. Some of the tests are routine for every pregnancy. Some tests will be repeated throughout your pregnancy. Some women may undergo additional tests. These may depend on your age, your health and family health history, the number of babies you are carrying, ethnicity, and the results of previous pregnancy tests.
Path to improved health
Tests you may receive during pregnancy can include:
- Blood pressure. You will get this test each time you see your doctor during your pregnancy. A small sleeve will be wrapped around your arm. The sleeve is connected to a monitor that checks your blood pressure. The test is painless. This test can help identify conditions such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is high blood pressure during pregnancy. It can affect the health of your kidneys and liver. If left untreated, it can cause serious problems during your pregnancy.
- Urine test. You will get this test each time you see your doctor during your pregnancy. You will be asked to provide a urine sample at your doctor’s office. Your urine will be sent to a lab to check for bladder or kidney infection. Also, the lab will test your urine for excess protein. Too much protein could be a sign of preeclampsia.
- Blood tests. The test involves inserting a small needle into a vein in your arm to collect a blood sample. It’s generally painless. The test will check for certain conditions, including sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis B, HIV, and anemia. The lab will also check your blood type and Rh factor (a condition that measures the compatibility of your blood to your baby’s blood).
- Group B streptococcus infection screening. This test involves swabbing a portion of your vagina and rectum. It may feel uncomfortable. The test looks for a type of bacteria (GBS) that causes pneumonia and other serious infections in babies. The test is performed between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. If you test positive for the bacteria, your doctor will give you antibiotics when you are in labor.
- Abdominal circumference. Your doctor will use a measuring tape to assess your baby’s size and growth. It’s painless.
- Glucose challenge screening. Your doctor will supply you with a sugary drink to drink. He or she will then test your blood one hour later to measure your blood sugar levels. It’s painless. This test looks at your blood sugar levels. It can tell your doctor if you have gestational diabetes (high blood sugar). It’s usually performed between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
- Ultrasound exam. This test involves moving a wand around on the outside of your stomach to look at your baby. The technician will apply a gel to your stomach to help the wand glide easily. Most women have this test once between the 18th and 20th weeks of pregnancy. If you are considered to be a high-risk pregnancy (based on your age, the number of babies you are carrying, or a medical condition), you may have multiple ultrasound exams. The test is painless.
- Chromosomal and neural tube defect screenings. These tests check your baby for conditions such as Down syndrome, spina bifida, and cystic fibrosis. Your doctor may choose to perform the screening through a blood test, chorionic villus sampling (CVS), or amniocentesis. Amniocentesis involves collecting a sample of fluid surrounding the baby in your womb using a long, thin needle inserted into your stomach. This fluid is sent to a lab. CVS involves collecting a sample of tissue from the placenta by inserting a small, thin tube into your vagina and cervix. Amniocentesis and CVS can be associated with an increased risk for a miscarriage. They can be painful. Your doctor will review the risks versus benefits of performing these tests with you.
- Non-stress test. This test measures your baby’s heart rate and checks to see if the baby is getting enough oxygen. It’s performed in the third trimester of your pregnancy. It involves placing a belt around your stomach. The belt is attached to a heart rate monitor. The test is painless.
- Kick counts. This is a test you can monitor on your own from anywhere. It involves counting the number of kicks you feel from your baby. You should start to feel your baby move around your 20th week of pregnancy. Monitor the amount of time it takes for your baby to kick or move 10 times. Call your doctor if it takes longer than 2 hours. Repeat this test 3 times each week. If you are concerned that your baby is not moving, see your doctor. Also, call your doctor if the number of kicks decreases.
Things to consider
Certain medical conditions may be detected during pregnancy. This would include:
- Gestational diabetes. This condition is a form of diabetes. It’s when your blood sugar is too high. It can affect your and your baby’s health. It usually goes away in the mother after giving birth. However, it puts you at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Birth defects and genetic abnormalities. Many birth defects and genetic abnormalities aren’t caused by pregnancy. However, they can be detected during pregnancy. Some of the more common ones include Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and spina bifida.
- Placenta previa. This occurs during pregnancy. It’s when the placenta (the membrane that develops around the baby) covers a mother’s cervix. It can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and childbirth.
- Preeclampsia. This can lead to dangerously high blood pressure.
- Breech position. Normally, a baby should be positioned head down near the end of pregnancy. A breech position is when your baby is feet first. This can make delivery a higher risk. This may lead to the need to deliver the baby by C-section. Your doctor can check the baby’s position with a physical exam and with an ultrasound test.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Can I decline an amniocentesis or other tests even if my doctor recommends them?
- Is learning about a birth defect or genetic abnormality helpful information before the baby is born?
- Do I need to fast before any routine pregnancy tests?
- Will ultrasound expose my baby to anything dangerous?
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: What tests might I need during pregnancy?
- March of Dimes: Prenatal Tests
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus: Prenatal Testing
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.