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Pregnancy: Prenatal Exams, Tests, and Procedures

What are prenatal exams, tests, and procedures?

Many exams, tests, and procedures are a part of your checkups during your pregnancy. Prenatal tests can help both the baby and the mother. Some tests check for diseases that the mother may have. Other tests look for birth defects. Still other tests are done to confirm the age, weight, and health of the baby. Some tests are routine and done for all pregnant women. Other tests are optional and depend on your medical history and what happens during the pregnancy. You may need to give your permission to have a test done after the reasons for the test are carefully explained to you.

At each visit your healthcare provider will discuss with you any problems you are having, such as headaches, swelling of your hands or feet, contractions, or bleeding. Keep all of your appointments. Regular checkups with your healthcare provider help to find and prevent many problems.

What happens during prenatal exams?

An early exam of your uterus and an early positive pregnancy test can help check your baby's age and due date. Ultrasound can be used to confirm your baby's age. An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your baby. Your baby can be measured with ultrasound as early as 5 or 6 weeks after your last menstrual period. This method is most accurate in the first half of your pregnancy.

Your healthcare provider will look for physical changes throughout your pregnancy. These changes may include:

  • Nausea, tiredness, breast tenderness, breast enlargement, and urinary frequency in early pregnancy
  • Changes in the color of your vagina, cervix, and skin
  • A growing uterus, starting at about 6 to 8 weeks
  • A growing belly, starting at about 14 weeks
  • The baby's heartbeat heard at 12 to 14 weeks
  • A change in size and position of the baby at about 18 weeks
  • Movement by the baby that you can feel at about 20 weeks if this is your first pregnancy, or as early as 16 weeks if you have been pregnant before

Your healthcare provider will also do a breast exam, check your height, weight, and blood pressure, and check your ankles and lower legs for swelling.

What are the routine tests and procedures?

Common tests and procedures done during prenatal visits include:

  • Urine or blood test for pregnancy at your first visit
  • Pelvic exam to check the size of your pelvis, a Pap test and other tests to check for infections and sexually transmitted diseases (usually done only very early in the pregnancy)
  • Measurements of your uterus
  • Blood and urine tests to check for health problems for you and the baby
  • Samples taken from your vagina and rectum to test for an infection with Group B streptococcus (also called beta strep) in the 35th to 37th weeks of pregnancy
  • Skin test for tuberculosis (TB)

You may also be given shots to protect you against some common infections.

What other tests might be done?

You may have other tests and scans to look for genetic problems such as Down syndrome. Genes are in each cell of your body. They contain the information that tells your body how to develop and work. Changes in the genes can be passed from parents to children.

Other tests look for birth defects and the health of your baby. Tests may include:

  • An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of your uterus, the baby, and the tissue and fluid that surround your baby.
  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which takes a small sample of tissue from the placenta (the tissue that carries oxygen and food from your blood to the baby’s blood.) This test is usually done between the 10th and 13th weeks of pregnancy.
  • Amniocentesis, which uses a needle put through your belly to test the fluid that surrounds your baby. This test is usually done between the 15th and 18th weeks of pregnancy.
  • Serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) measurement to screen for certain birth defects
  • Other blood tests that check for genetic problems or birth defects, such as the triple or quad screen tests, cystic fibrosis screening, and sickle cell disease testing
  • Nonstress test, which uses a monitor strapped your belly to record how your baby's heart rate changes when the baby moves

Women with high risk factors may also have tests, procedures, or treatments such as:

  • Test for herpes
  • Blood tests for clotting studies or liver function
  • A biophysical profile, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) along with a nonstress test to check the baby's breathing, movements, heart rate, and muscle tone. It is also a way to see how much fluid there is around the baby.
  • A contraction stress test, which uses a monitor strapped to your belly to record how your baby's heart rate changes after you are given medicine to cause contractions
  • A shot of Rho(D) immune globulin (RhIg) at 28 weeks if you are Rh negative and the father is Rh positive

Getting regular checkups and tests when you need them can help you and your baby stay healthy.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-01
Last reviewed: 2014-04-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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