It is a mother-to-be’s prerogative to worry about her unborn baby. Whether it’s the first baby or the twelfth, all mothers and fathers are anxious to the bone about their baby’s health and whether it is developing without problems. And although the parents-to-be do not think about it too much, the doctors of the happy couples are concerned about the mother as well. Is she doing OK? Does she have any pregnancy complications? If not, is she at risk for any?
Fortunately, all the worrying and questions led to the creation of several prenatal tests that would ease the minds of all concerned parties. There are today dozens of prenatal tests that determine the health of every aspect of the pregnancy right from the baby’s genetic structure to the mother’s blood sugar. These prenatal tests are a boon as they can help to detect pregnancy complications early on or highlight the high risk of a particular pregnancy complication in individual patients. This allows for preventive and curative measures to be taken as soon as possible. Prenatal tests can save the lives of both mother and baby.
However, not all prenatal tests are very accurate. And it is not possible to depend on prenatal tests alone to determine whether or not there is a problem. Be that as it may, the advantages of prenatal tests far outweigh the drawbacks. Every day, prenatal tests are being developed to detect more and more pregnancy complications. And the existing ones are being refined to produce more accurate results.
Why Get Prenatal Tests?
There are several compelling reasons that you should allow prenatal tests, if you are thinking twice about them.
Ease your mind about your baby’s health and development
This is the most important reason for prenatal tests. Prenatal tests can help to identify existing and potential health concerns for you and your baby. Most prenatal tests are safe and painless and allow your doctor to determine a variety of facts about your baby from its sex and age to its placement in the uterus – all very important for your doctor to know as it can help her decide if any additional tests may be needed or if certain factors put you at higher risk for pregnancy complications.
You may need a different kind of prenatal care
Although most women will receive the same kind of prenatal care, the results of your prenatal test may indicate a problem that requires a different approach. Prenatal tests help your doctor identify whether or not you can continue with regular prenatal care or whether it needs to be customized in some way to adapt to or address the results of your prenatal tests.
Important decisions about your pregnancy can be made with prenatal tests
Some prenatal test may point out an abnormality with the baby – either genetic or chromosomal – which tell you that your baby will not make it to full term or will be born with birth defects. This knowledge, although painful, does nevertheless give you the power to decide what you want to do. Do you want to terminate the pregnancy now if you know the baby will not make it? Do you want to take your chances? If the baby is going to be born with a birth defect, you again have two choices – you can terminate the pregnancy if you know the defect will be too much for you or your baby to take, or you can start making preparations and educating yourself to deal with the complications of birth defects so as to be a better parent.
Prenatal tests give you your earliest tidbits for the baby book
Ultrasounds give you your first images of your baby. What could be more exciting! You get to witness the almost unbelievable miracle from its earliest stages to its last.
Prenatal tests can make the pregnancy seem more real
Although the pregnancy symptoms and never-ending weight gain are enough for most women to come to terms with the reality of their pregnancy, there are a few women who have a harder time experiencing the maternal feelings associated with pregnancy. Some parents-to-be can simply not believe that there is a baby on the way. Although these are more emotional issues that need to be dealt with separately, getting prenatal tests done can contribute in a small way to the evidence of an impending baby and help the fact to sink in for the mother or father or both.
Types of Prenatal Tests
Prenatal tests can be categorized into screening tests and diagnostic tests.
Prenatal Screening Tests:
This would include your regular blood work and ultrasounds. These are routine prenatal tests carried our on all pregnant women to make sure that everything is going all right with the pregnancy. Prenatal screening tests are not risky for either mother or child. Keep in mind though that these prenatal tests are simply meant to screen for the possibility of a pregnancy complication, they cannot diagnose a pregnancy complication. For that, we have prenatal diagnostic tests.
Prenatal Diagnostic Tests:
If your doctor picks up on something unusual in your prenatal screening tests or if she knows that you are at particularly high risk for some pregnancy complication, she will have you undergo prenatal diagnostic tests to either confirm or negate her suspicions. Prenatal diagnostic tests are not a part of the routine prenatal tests because they may pose a risk of miscarriage. This is why prenatal tests for diagnostic purposes are carried out only if absolutely necessary. Prenatal diagnostic tests can often be invasive and uncomfortable or even downright painful.
Who Should Get Prenatal Diagnostic Tests?
Although every pregnant woman will undergo prenatal screening tests, prenatal diagnostic tests are another matter. Your doctor may advise certain prenatal diagnostic tests if she has detected something of concern in the results of your prenatal screening tests, or if you fall into any of the categories below.
- Prenatal tests are especially important if there were birth defects in your previous pregnancies.
- If you are below 20 or above 35, you may have to undergo more than just the routine prenatal tests to cancel out the possibility of certain pregnancy complications that are common to women in these age groups.
- If you have had pregnancy complications like preterm labor or gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, you will undergo prenatal tests in your current pregnancy just to make sure that the problem has not cropped up again.
- Pregnancy complications already plaguing you? Then you will need some prenatal tests to check for known side-effects of those complications.
- Women who carry multiple foetuses are at higher risk for several pregnancy complications due to the added pressure on the body’s systems. Prenatal tests are thus crucial to ensure that everything is going OK.
- A family history of mental illness will also have your doctor calling for related prenatal tests.
- For reasons unknown, ethnic background plays a small role in the risk factors of certain pregnancy complications. So you may have to undergo particular prenatal tests to rule out the complications that your ethnic group is more prone to.
- If you are suffering from a serious illness like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, you should ideally undergo prenatal tests to check for any associated complications that could affect your pregnancy.
Some Routine Prenatal Tests And What They Will Check For
The scope of prenatal tests is vast. Here are just a few prenatal tests that can help your doctor check up on the health of your baby and you.
- Blood tests are the most routine of prenatal tests and you will have them throughout your pregnancy. Your blood is a treasure-house of information which carries key components of your health and physical condition. Blood tests can help detect or diagnose anemia, sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis or hepatitis B, measles, and cystic fibrosis. Glucose screening is a type of blood test that helps detect gestational diabetes.
- Cardocentesis is one of the prenatal tests which checks your baby’s blood. This can help to determine if the baby is receiving enough oxygen. Anemia in the baby can also be detected via this prenatal test.
- Alphafetoprotein screening is a prenatal test that can detect whether your baby is at higher risk for Down syndrome. It can also verify spinal or neural deformities.
- Urine tests are also quite routine, forming a regular part of your prenatal tests for the duration of your pregnancy. Urine tests can detect the presence of protein which will indicate preeclampsia or sugar which will indicate gestational diabetes. If you have an infection, a urine test may be able to provide confirmation.
- Then we have cervical tests that can provide early detection for cancer and sometimes further confirmation of sexually transmitted diseases.
- Vaginal and/or rectal swabs can test for the presence of group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria which causes an infection which can affect your baby.
- Next on our list of prenatal tests we have ultrasounds. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images on the screen of the ultrasound machine. An ultrasound on your abdomen will show you one of the first images of your baby. This prenatal test can help your doctor identify the sex and health of the baby. Some birth defects and pregnancy complications can be detected via ultrasound.
- Amniocentesis can help to check if your baby is at risk of a chromosomal or genetic disorder.
- Chorionic villus sampling is another prenatal test which can check for birth defects. This may be an alternative to amniocentesis.
The results of prenatal tests are not always accurate. But they are nevertheless useful tools that help more than hinder. None of these prenatal tests are compulsory. However, it would be in the best interests of your baby and you if you had them done.
Bear in mind that you may have to undergo extra prenatal tests depending on the risk factors you have for a certain pregnancy complication. On the other hand, you may be able to skip some prenatal tests altogether as your doctor may deem them unnecessary. The need for prenatal tests should be your doctor’s call as she knows your medical history and current health condition best. But this does not leave you out of the loop. Prenatal tests do carry their own set of risks. Some prenatal tests can actually be painful. You may not think the results of a particular test justify the risk or the pain. On the other hand, you may just be a happy-go-lucky person who wants to leave things to fate. Discuss all the pros and cons, your worries and doubts with your doctor, partner, mother, friend, and other pregnant women who may have undergone the test before you make your final decision.