Routine Tests During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a unique time in your life and for your body. Your body goes through many changes. Your doctor will monitor your and your baby’s health throughout the pregnancy. He or she will rely on a number of tests. Some of the tests are routine for every pregnancy. Certain tests will be repeated throughout the pregnancy. Some women may undergo additional tests. Additional tests may depend on your age, the number of babies you are carrying, your health and family healthy history, ethnicity, and the results of previous pregnancy tests.

Path to improved health

Tests you may receive during pregnancy can include:

  • Blood pressure. You will get this test each time you see your doctor during your pregnancy. A nurse will wrap a small sleeve around your arm. The sleeve is connected to a monitor that checks your blood pressure at that moment. The test is painless. This test can help identify conditions such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is high blood pressure during pregnancy. It can affect the health of your kidneys and liver. If left untreated, it can cause serious problems during your pregnancy.
  • Urine test. You will get this test each time you see your doctor during your pregnancy. You will be asked to provide a urine sample (pee in a cup) at your doctor’s office. It is painless. Your urine will be sent to a lab to check for bladder or kidney infection. Also, the lab will test your urine for excess protein. Too much protein could be a sign of preeclampsia.
  • Blood tests. A blood test will check for certain conditions, including sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis B, HIV, and anemia. Also, it will check your blood type and Rh factor (a condition that measures the compatibility of your blood to your baby’s). The test involves inserting a small needle into a vein in your arm to collect a blood sample. It is generally painless.
  • Group B streptococcus infection screening. This test looks for a type of bacteria (GBS) that causes pneumonia and other serious infections in babies. The test is performed between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. It involves swabbing a portion of your vagina and rectum. It may feel uncomfortable. Generally, the test is painless. If you test positive for the bacteria, your doctor will give you antibiotics when you are in labor.
  • Abdominal circumference. This test measures (with a measuring tape) your belly to assess the baby’s size and growth. It is painless.
  • Glucose challenge screening. This test looks at your blood sugar levels. It can tell your doctor if you have gestational diabetes (high blood sugar). It is usually performed between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. It involves drinking a sugary drink (supplied by your doctor) and testing your blood one hour later to measure your blood sugar levels. It is painless.
  • Ultrasound exam. Most women have this test once between the 18th and 20th weeks of pregnancy. It involves moving a wand around your stomach to look at the baby. The technician will apply a gel to your stomach to help the wand glide easily. If you are considered to be a high-risk pregnancy (based on your age, the number of babies you are carrying, or a medical condition), you may have multiple ultrasound exams. The test is painless.
  • Chromosomal and neural tube defect screenings. These tests check your baby for conditions such as Down syndrome, spina bifida, and cystic fibrosis. Your doctor may choose to perform the screening through a blood test, chorionic villus sampling (CVS), or amniocentesis. Amniocentesis and CVS involve inserting a long, thin needle into your stomach to collect a sample of fluid surrounding the baby. This fluid is sent to a lab. CVS also can be performed by collecting a sample of tissue from the placenta. Your doctor will do this by inserting a small, thin tube into your vagina and cervix. The tube will suck out a small tissue sample to send to the lab. Amniocentesis and CVS tests in the stomach can increase your risk for a miscarriage. They can be painful. Your doctor will review the risks versus benefits of performing these tests with you. He or she will then get your permission and tell you when to have the test.
  • Non-stress test. This test measures your baby’s heart rate and checks to see if the baby is getting enough oxygen. It is performed in the third trimester of your pregnancy. It involves placing a belt around your stomach. The belt is attached to a heart rate monitor. The test is painless.
  • Kick counts. This is a test you can monitor on your own from anywhere. It involves counting the number of kicks you feel from your baby. You should start to feel your baby move around your 20th week of pregnancy. If you are concerned that your baby is not moving, see your doctor. Additionally, time the amount of time it takes for your baby to kick or move 10 times. Call your doctor if it takes longer than 2 hours. Repeat this test 3 times each week. Also, call your doctor if the number decreases.

 Things to consider

Certain medical conditions are more likely to occur or be detected during pregnancy. This would include:

  • Gestational diabetes. This condition is a form of diabetes. It is when your blood sugar is too high. It can affect your and your baby’s health. It usually goes away in the mother after giving birth. However, it puts you at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Birth defects and genetic abnormalities. Many birth defects and genetic abnormalities aren’t caused by pregnancy. However, they can be detected during pregnancy. Some of the more common ones include Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and spina bifida.
  • Placenta previa. This occurs during pregnancy. It is when the placenta (the membrane that develops around the baby) covers a mother’s cervix. It can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Preeclampsia. This can lead to dangerously high blood pressure.
  • Breech position. Normally, a baby should be positioned head first near the end of a pregnancy. A breech position is when your baby is feet first. This can make delivery a higher risk. This may lead to the need to deliver the baby by C-section. Your doctor can check the baby’s position with a physical exam and with an ultrasound test.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Can I decline an amniocentesis if my doctor recommends it?
  • Is learning about a birth defect or genetic abnormality helpful information before the baby is born?
  • Do I need to fast before any routine pregnancy tests?
  • Will ultrasound expose my baby to anything dangerous?