Missed your period and anxious as to whether you may be pregnant or not? Well, it is time to buy that home pregnancy test, better yet schedule a visit with your gynecologist. If indeed you are pregnant, Congratulations! Motherhood beckons and the next nine months are going to be a roller coaster ride and probably some of the most miraculous moments of your life.
Your first visit as a pregnant woman right until you deliver your baby is known as your prenatal or antenatal care. And for every pregnancy, this is the most important step to ensure the health and safety of both you and your unborn child. Your obstetrician will be your best friend. S/he will counsel you, conduct vital pregnancy tests and answer all your queries.
During your first visit, the main tasks completed with your obstetrician is working out your due date, finding out your current health history; in case you have high blood pressure or diabetes, determine any pregnancy risk factors you may have; including any high-risk previous pregnancies and scheduling your pregnancy test.
All in all your first visit will be exciting, nerve-wracking and you might be left speechless with eyes brimming with tears. But it is only the beginning of the next nine months. Welcome to motherhood in all it’s galore!
More often than not the idea of being pricked by a needle can be daunting and overwhelming. And the long list of blood tests during pregnancy can make any mother fret. However, here is a highlight of the essential pregnancy test and why each one is conducted.
Pregnancy test Conducted During Your First Trimester
Complete Blood Count
The main reason this is conducted is to check for anemia, which is seen through the hemoglobin component of the blood test. This test also helps determine your iron levels, if too low you will be put on iron supplements. Some other important parameters are white cell count and platelets. An increased white cell count could indicate an underlying infection which may require antibiotics.
Blood Type, Rh Factor, and Antibody Screening
Your blood type of A, B, AB or O will be determined as well as Rh factor positive or negative. If you are Rh negative you will have antibodies (attackers of foreign substances) to the Rh positive type blood. Which means if your partner is Rh positive, your baby has a 50% chance of having it. Therefore you will be scheduled for a few immunizations to protect your baby from these antibodies.
This is to check whether your body has immunity against the rubella virus as this causes stillbirths, preterm labor, and serious birth defects. So as to prevent these unfortunate events your obstetrician will advise you to stay away from people who are suspected of the condition. This vaccination cannot be given during pregnancy but will be given after you deliver.
Hepatitis B Test
Many women are unknowing carriers of the hepatitis B antigen. If you are indeed positive, your baby will receive hepatitis B immunoglobulin as well as hepatitis B vaccine within 12 months of birth.
Although not as prevalent, it is very important to eliminate this risk. A presence of this bacteria can cause serious birth deformities of bone and tooth, nerve damage, brain damage and on some occasions, lead to stillbirth. If positive you will be initiated on antibiotics.
Although optional this has been made mandatory for all pregnant women by obstetricians as it leads to a whole host of conditions that could affect your pregnancy. You will be immediately started on medications to help you and reduce transmission of the virus to your unborn child.
If you have never had chickenpox your immunity to the virus will be checked as this has dire consequences during pregnancy. Since the vaccination is contraindicated during pregnancy, avoiding exposure to people with the condition is highly recommended.
This is primarily done to test for kidney function and any infection in the bladder. Bladder infections are easy to treat and should be done earlier to prevent infections spreading to the kidneys. High urine sugar usually indicates a diabetic and a glucose oral challenge test can also be done, to determine if indeed the mother is diabetic and needs to be started on insulin therapy.
All these tests are conducted to avoid any kind of complications throughout the pregnancy.
Pregnancy Test Conducted During Your Second Trimester
In your second trimester, a urine screen checks many vital conditions based on the substances assessed in your urine. Some unusual parameters include:
- Increased protein: These indicate kidney disease or damage. Another reason this is commonly done is to test high blood pressure affecting your kidneys, due to preeclampsia. This is a medical emergency commonly treated by admitting you to the hospital.
- Increased glucose: This usually indicates pre – existing diabetes or new-onset gestational diabetes. This is followed up with a confirmatory blood glucose test.
- Bacteria in urine: Cultures of urine are taken to check for bacteria that isn’t causing symptomatic infection. This needs to be treated with antibiotics as it can have dire consequences in your pregnancy if left untreated.
Glucose Tolerance Tests
This test is conducted between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes these tests are conducted earlier if the woman is at higher risk to have diabetes. Some risk factors include increased maternal age, obesity, family history of diabetes or diabetes in previous pregnancies. For a glucose tolerance test, a woman ideally comes in fasting and her blood sugar levels are checked. Then she is given glucose and the increase in blood sugar is noted at one and two hours respectively. Gestational diabetes is confirmed if any of the values are above cutoff values. In the event that blood sugar levels are increased; diet restrictions and insulin are started to normalize the glucose levels. After pregnancy newly diagnosed diabetes usually goes away.
Thyroid Function Tests
These are commonly done for women with a history of thyroid disorder. Thyroid hormones are vital for fetal development and for maternal well-being. Since most hormones fluctuate during pregnancy, some doctors check these parameters as well.
In addition to these doctors perform routine screening tests such as amniocentesis, levels of maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein and ultrasounds.
Note – With these tests being conducted you should also be very careful regarding your health and type of food you eat. Precautions are a must for a healthy pregnancy. Read this complete guide to pregnancy precautions and ensure your baby remains safe and sound.
Pregnancy Test Conducted During Your Third Trimester
Group B Streptococcus Screening
Usually found in healthy women as well, this bacteria can be present in your reproductive tract without causing symptoms. However, in some instances, they cause infection of your uterus of the placenta. This can lead to life-threatening infections in your newborn including meningitis, mental retardation, vision loss and hearing loss. Antibiotics are given to prevent the spread of infection.
Electronic Fetal Heart Monitoring
This test is usually done anytime after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is used to check the normal heart function. It is also done during labor and delivery to monitor the fetal heart during the different stages of labor.
This test is conducted by placing a fetal heart rate monitor on your pregnant belly for about 20 – 30 minutes to check the heart rate of your baby. This is done commonly in high-risk pregnancies and women who are past their due date.
Contraction Stress Test
This is commonly done in a similar fashion, but an external stress, mainly oxytocin which is a contraction stimulator is given to you. This helps to give the doctor an idea of how the baby will react through labor, so they will be able to take the necessary precautions during your delivery if required.
In addition to these new tests, the usual blood and urinalysis are also conducted. Ultrasounds will also be done to show how your baby is developing and whether all the vital organs are formed and functioning. Sometimes another amniocentesis may be performed in your third trimester especially if there is a risk of infection.
Some Additional Pregnancy Test
This is an invasive procedure where fetal cells are extracted and tested for genetic abnormalities like Down’s syndrome. Being invasive in nature, it may cause complications in a very small percentage of pregnant women. It is an optional test performed between the 15th-18th week but may be performed before this for women above 35 years of age. All women are advised to consult their doctor regarding any apprehensions they may have before performing this procedure.
Triple Screening Test
This test checks the levels of Maternal Serum Alpha FetoProtein (MSAFP), Unconjugated Estradiol (UE3) and Beta Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (Beta-hcG). Abnormal levels of these indicate the presence of neural tube defects, Down’s syndrome, and other hormonal imbalances. A quad test may be performed which comprises of the above-stated tests along with detecting a marker called inhibin A. This test sometimes gives a false positive.
This is a non-invasive procedure where your baby’s due date can be verified. Various internal structures, as well as possible physical anomalies, can be ruled out. Periodic ultrasound imaging is a useful record that can be maintained to track fetal growth. Slow growth or abnormal growths can be checked upon and appropriate actions can be taken.
Chorionic Villus Sampling
Chorionic Villi are finger-like projections on the placenta. In this procedure, a fragment of the chorionic villi is extracted through the cervix and taken for biopsy to check for any deviations from normal development. It is helpful in detecting familial disorders.
Pregnancy can be a miraculous time for expectant mothers. While it may seem like a grueling process, entrusting your gynecologist to guide you on your journey can really help. Appearing for regular prenatal visits and tests ensures a safe pregnancy and the delivery of a happy and healthy baby. Never hesitate to seek assistance from your gynecologist when you are facing any difficulties during pregnancy.