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Prenatal Testing: Choices and Decisions

by Katlyn Joy | October 14, 2013 12:00 AM
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Prenatal Testing: Choices and Decisions

When you are pregnant, it's hard not to worry about every little thing. However, the overall worry is summed up in one crucial question—is my baby OK? Prenatal testing can offer some comfort at times, however it can also stir up some anxiety.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that couples ask questions about the tests such as the risks, the reliability, and consider what you will do with the information. For example, would you like to know about a possible birth defect ahead of time in order to prepare, or would you rather wait and see if there actually is a problem at birth. Or is it the case that the possible defect is so extreme you would consider terminating the pregnancy?

There are two different types of tests offered to pregnant women. The first, considered screening tests, will alert parents to the possibility of a problem. These tests tell you if it seems you are at elevated risk for certain problems. However, these tests provide no definite results and will require further testing to get a more accurate picture.

The other type of test is a diagnostic test. This is typically done as a follow up to a screening test that showed a higher risk of problems in the pregnancy. Some tests have risks, so having one is a big decision in itself.

Here are the tests you may be asked to take during your pregnancy:

Ultrasound

When is it Performed? Early in pregnancy and again typically at 18 to 20 weeks.

Sonograms are performed to date the pregnancy when done earlier enough in pregnancy, and later it is used to detect organ or growth problems in the fetus, problems with amniotic fluid levels, or any structural problems with the uterus or the placement of the placenta. It is considered safe and non-invasive, but shouldn't be done for mere curiosity's sake.

Urine Tests

When is it Performed? Throughout pregnancy.

A urine test is done every time you show up at the doctor, to check for protein in your urine, a sign of the serious condition of pre-eclampsia, and for urinary tract infections, a common problem during pregnancy. Non-invasive and potentially life-saving, having urine tests is an important part of prenatal care.

Glucose Challenge Screening

When is it Performed? Between 26 and 28 weeks.

The purpose of the glucose screening test is to check if you are at risk for gestational diabetes. Should your results be elevated, your doctor will want to do the glucose tolerance test.

Glucose Tolerance Test

When is it Performed? Between 26 and 28 weeks.

If this test shows your body having have difficulties with glucose after fasting, you will be diagnosed as having gestational diabetes and your pregnancy will be considered higher risk.

First Trimester Screening

When is it Performed? Between 11 and 14 weeks.

This is a blood screening test and ultrasound done together to check for chromosomal problems. The blood test checks for levels of certain substances in the mother's blood which may indicate genetic risks to baby, while the sonogram will more detailed than usual to check specific measurements—particularly the thickness of the baby's neck. A mother's age will play a vital role in determining risk factors as well. This may be done prior to an amniocentesis or in place of one if a mother doesn't want to take the risks of the more invasive test especially if she is against an abortion whatever the results.

Triple or Quad Screening

When is it Performed? Between 15 and 20 weeks.

This is similar to the first trimester screening, only without the ultrasound component. This test can give you a warning of possible risks but there is a strong likelihood of false positives, which may make you more inclined to consent to more risky tests. Consulting with your OBGYN to discuss the options and your concerns is important.

Amniocentesis

When is it Performed? Between 14 and 20 weeks

A diagnostic to determine the likelihood of neural tube defects or chromosomal problems, as well as the sex of the baby. It may cause miscarriage, although the risk is small.

Chorionic villus sampling or CVS.

When is it Performed? Between 10 and 13 weeks.

Another diagnostic test to check for chromosomal defects in the fetus, as well as determine paternity. It is often performed if genetic counseling indicates a need for it.

BPP or Biophysical Profile.

When is it Performed? Late in pregnancy.

The BPP test is done to see if baby needs to be delivered early. It is a nonstress test combined with an ultrasound to check baby's heart rate, breathing, movement, muscle tone and the amount of amniotic fluid present. Considered non-invasive and not risky.

Group B Strep Screen.

When is it Performed? Between 36 and 37 weeks.

Low risk and mildly invasive test where a swab is taken of the vagina and rectum to check for the bacteria which can cause serious issues in newborn infants if untreated.

Katlyn Joy is a freelance writer with a Master's of Arts in Creative Writing. She is mom to seven children, and lives in Denver, Colorado.

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