What is Antenatal Testing?

Antenatal testing includes different types of tests performed before birth for those who are at higher risk for complications. It usually involves blood tests and monitoring the heart rate of the fetus by a care team. Many health care providers offer these tests routinely, and it is up to you to decide if they are right for you and your baby. So what kind of “tests” are we talking about? How invasive are they? How do I know if they are right for me? Here are a few of the more common ones and the types of pregnant women that would be the best candidates.

Routine Tests

Routine antenatal care is recommended for all pregnant women. This is an opportunity for you to come in and meet with your care team on an ongoing basis, and keep a close eye on your growing weight and blood pressure to make sure you are progressing in a healthy way. You’ll be weighed at each appointment, as the Institute of Medicine recommends gaining between 25-35 pounds during your pregnancy if you are at a normal weight when you become pregnant. If you are overweight, you should gain between 15 and 25 pounds, and if you are underweight, only gain between 28 to 40 pounds. Your blood pressure can also tell your health provider how your body is doing, and a rise in pressure later in pregnancy could be a sign of pregnancy-induced hypertension or other more serious conditions.

Some of your visits may also include a request for a urine sample, which will be checked for several things, such as protein or albumin. Protein in your urine can be something as simple as a sign of a urinary tract infection, but later in pregnancy can also reflect a sign of preeclampsia if accompanied by high blood pressure, which is a more serious condition discussed in another post. Your provider will also want to check your urine for signs that you are getting enough water, or assess other possible bladder or kidney infections that need to be addressed to avoid harm to the unborn baby. Since all of these tests are simple and noninvasive, they are generally recommended for all pregnant women, and they do not have any side effects.

Higher Risk Tests

Ultrasound tests are commonly done in many pregnancies as well, though there are different types. A nuchal translucency scan is often done around 12 weeks of pregnancy, where the technician measures the size of the nuchal fold at the back of the baby’s neck. Increased thickness in this area could indicate a chromosomal abnormality such as Down Syndrome, but it does not mean that your baby definitely does or does not have this condition. While this test presents minimal physical risks to you and your baby, it can present emotional risks through increased stress and worry — even when there may not be any need to worry at all, as there can be false positives. Additionally, a high-risk result from the nuchal scan leads to an offering of additional testing that is more invasive, such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. These tests can tell you with more certainty whether your baby has a birth defect, but they do carry a small risk of miscarriage.

Every family may make different decisions about the types of tests they want to take, but what is most important is that each family and mom-to-be is well-informed and understands the reasoning behind the tests as well as any risks associated with them, so that you can make your own decisions that are best for your family.

Do you need dedicated, professional perinatal care to help you through your pregnancy? Are you curious about what other tests would be offered during your visits? Arizona’s Valley Perinatal Services has a team of specialists to help you before, during, and after labor. Contact us online or at (480) 756-6000.