Tests You Need During Pregnancy
Prenatal tests are important for your health and your unborn baby's health. Here's what to expect.
"Taking good care of yourself during pregnancy is the most
important way to have a healthy baby," says E. Charles Lampley, MD,
assistant professor at the Chicago Medical School and an ob-gyn at Mount Sinai
Hospital in Chicago.
There are a number of prenatal tests you'll go through while
you're pregnant, but the very first test you'll take is the one that will tell
you whether you're actually pregnant in the first place. "To get off to a
healthy start, it is important to know that you are going to have a baby as
early into the pregnancy as possible," Lampley says. If you have regular
periods and you miss one, that's a pretty good sign (although not a foolproof
one). Another indication, he says, is simply whether you think you're pregnant.
"It's a life-altering event, and the psychological part can clue you
If you do think you're pregnant, have your hunch confirmed
through a blood test at your doctor's office or a health clinic, Lampley says.
You can use a drugstore test first, but he cautions that these are only about
75% accurate. Tests performed at the doctor's office are almost 100%
Once you know for certain that you're pregnant, schedule
regular appointments -- even if you're feeling fine. "Unless there are risk
factors, you should see your obstetrician once a month for the first 28 to 32
weeks," Lampley says. "Women who develop diabetes or high blood
pressure during pregnancy, or who have a history of delivery before 37 weeks,
should see the doctor more often."
According to Boris Petrikovsky, MD, PhD, chairman of the
department of obstetrics and gynecology at Nassau University Medical Center in
East Meadow, N.Y., and author of What Your Unborn Baby Wants You to
Know, your first prenatal visit will include blood tests to determine your
blood type; your iron level to see if you're anemic; your blood glucose level
to check for diabetes; and your Rh factor (if your blood is Rh negative, and
the father's is Rh positive, the fetus may inherit the father's Rh-positive
blood, which could cause your body to make antibodies that would hurt your
unborn child). You will also be tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis, as
well as whether you're immune to rubella (German measles), since coming down
with this illness while pregnant, especially in the first three months, can
cause birth defects.
A Pap smear -- if one has not been performed recently -- will
be done to test for early cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases
such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, while a urine specimen will be taken to check
for urinary tract infections. A blood pressure check will also screen for high
blood pressure, which can interfere with the blood supply to the placenta.