When you become pregnant there are a bunch of tests, referred to as prenatal tests which you will be subject to. The purpose of prenatal tests is to ascertain yours and the baby’s health to ensure that everything is developing normally.

There are a few prenatal tests which you will take at regular intervals during the pregnancy, such as blood pressure and urine tests. Other tests are only performed if the baby or mother is in an at-risk category, or if the mother requests it.

Understanding The Tests

It will help to alleviate much of the anxiety about the tests if you understand what they are for and why they are necessary. Ask your doctor about each type of test when it is scheduled, and take the time to decide for yourself whether these tests are in line with your beliefs.

Routine Tests

These tests are performed on all pregnant mothers to detect the presence of existing conditions that may affect the development of the fetus, as well to ensure that mom and baby are in good health.

Initial tests:

  • For sexually transmitted diseases that could pose a danger to your baby such as syphilis or hepatitis B as well as AIDS and HIV.
  • To check for rubella and chickenpox antibodies to ensure immunity, as an infection during pregnancy could cause birth defects.
  • To detect if the mother is anemic (low red blood cell count) which causes fatigue and can increase the risk of premature labor and delivery.
  • For your blood type to see what your Rh factor is. If the mother is negative then the father is tested to see if he is positive. This does not affect your baby, but means that a special injection is given during delivery to avoid problems with future pregnancies.
  • To detect bacteria in the urine, a sign of urinary tract infection (UTI). This affects about 10% of pregnant women and can cause kidney problems which can endanger mother and baby.
  • To check for sugar in the urine, which can indicate diabetes. Usually a follow-up blood test will be required.
  • To detect protein in the urine which can indicate a urinary tract infection, or another condition that includes high blood pressure and is dangerous to mother and baby. Protein in the urine usually requires follow-up testing to confirm the diagnosis.

Some of these tests are done at each prenatal visit to ensure that the mother and baby are staying healthy. Usually during each visit you will provide a urine samples which is checked for protein, sugar and bacteria. Additionally the mother’s blood pressure is monitored. At regular intervals throughout the pregnancy the blood is checked for anemia.

Certain pregnant women will be offered a cystic fibrosis screening test if their obstetrician believes that their fetus is at risk for the disease. CF is a genetic disease that occurs when both parents have a certain gene in their DNA. This test is entirely optional and may be refused if the parent does not wish to have it.

Regular Tests

At each visit the mother’s blood pressure is measured. This is a preventative measure to check for a condition called preeclampsia, or pregnancy related high blood pressure. Preeclampsia occurs in about 5-8% of pregnancies and can cause serious problems if left untreated including poor fetal development. In some cases it can cause seizures and coma.

Additionally your obstetrician will check the baby’s heart rate using a Doppler monitor, and will measure the length of your uterus. Both of these tests help the doctor to check on your baby to ensure that he or she is growing normally and is not in distress.

The Ultrasound

At least once during a pregnancy the mother will be scheduled for an ultrasound exam. During this exam sound waves are used to create a picture of the developing fetus on a screen. Certain measurements are taken and the relative condition of the uterus and surrounding areas are checked, all to make sure that baby is safe and sound and developing on schedule.

Other Tests

In certain circumstances other types of tests are offered to check for conditions or diseases that could affect the mother or fetus. These tests are entirely optional and up to the discretion of the mother and her physician. Usually the tests are recommended when there is a history of the condition or if an abnormality is detected.