Have you confirmed your pregnancy? If not, check out our guide on pregnancy tests.
Once you get the confirmation, it is time to secure the medical care. You and your baby need to choose a competent doctor to oversee and provide your prenatal care.
Choose the best doctor
Maybe you already have one that you know and trust. If not, don’t hesitate to identify the best ones in your area and compare them using the following criteria:
You want someone with an excellent professional background, a great reputation and working in a well-equipped medical facility. You should not have to wait for months to get an appointment, and they should be friendly and communicative.
You should be able to trust them and talk to them about anything that bothers you. Their services should not be prohibitively expenses either, at least not for your financial means. You have plenty of expenses ahead, so you need to budget carefully.
Assuming you have found your doctor, it is time to learn what to expect from your visits and prenatal care tests. We’ve covered everything in the following lines, so keep reading.
Prenatal care basics – Doctor checkups
During your pregnancy, assuming your baby develops normally and there are no risks or complications, you should see your doctor monthly until your 27th week of pregnancy. From the 28th to the 36th week of pregnancy, you should have two checkups every month. From the 36th week to delivery, weekly checkups are advised.
Usually, the first pregnancy checkup consists of a complete physical exam, blood tests, and due-to-date calculations. Your doctor may examine your breasts, pelvis, and cervix.
Some recommend a Pap or smear test. You should also expect lots of lifestyle-related questions, general pregnancy advice, baby heart rate checks, and measurements of your abdomen.
The number of tests, questions, and exams may cause you to worry at some point. Keep in mind that they are all part of a complex routine meant to monitor you and your baby’s health. They also aim to prevent risks like anemia, gestational diabetes, or harmful infections.
To avoid unnecessary stress and confusions, it helps to know what to expect. That is why, in the following lines, we will discuss the usually required prenatal tests, their purpose, and how they are done.
Prenatal care tests – Purpose and procedures
As mentioned above, the purpose of prenatal tests is to check your health and that of your unborn baby and diagnose potential pregnancy risks.
Your doctor will begin performing some and recommending others at your very first visit.
When taking over a new patient, doctors usually recommend the following tests:
- blood type and Rh factor
- complete blood count
- detection of HIV, toxoplasmosis, hepatitis B, and any other sexually transmitted infections
- immunity tests for chicken pox or rubella
- screening for gestational diabetes and Down syndrome
Depending on your age, health history, ethnic background, and the results of already-performed tests, they may have additional recommendations.
Here is a list of the most common pregnancy tests, what they pursue, and how they are done, according to the period when they are performed.
1. Urine tests
Your doctor may recommend urine samples at any time to rule out health problems like urinary tract infections, diabetes, or preeclampsia. If the preliminary tests raise suspicions, they may send your sample to a lab for in-depth testing.
To perform the test, you will need to collect a midstream urine sample in a sterile plastic cup. To perform the tests, the medical personnel will dip test strips in the sample or examine it under the microscope.
2. Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)
This test is usually performed between the 10th and 13th week of pregnancy to identify potential birth defects (genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome, etc.).
The test also allows DNA testing to determine paternity. Doctors usually recommend CVS in cases with high genetic disorders risks. To perform it, they will use a needle to collect a small placenta cells sample.
3. First trimester screening test
This screening is usually recommended between the 11th and 14th week of pregnancy and aims to detect heart defects and chromosomal disorder risks, including trisomy 18, and Down syndrome. It also reveals multiple births.
The screening consists of an ultrasound exam and a blood test. The ultrasound exam is also called nuchal translucency and measures the thickness of the back part of your baby’s neck. The blood test measures certain substance levels in your blood.
Your doctor will correlate the results with your age to determine if your baby is at risk of being born with any of the above-mentioned defects or disorders. If the risk is elevated, they may recommend further tests.
This test is commonly recommended between the 14th and 20th week of pregnancy to couples with high genetic disorders risk. Its goal is to diagnose or rule out potential birth defects like cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, or Down syndrome.
It involves using a thin needle to draw a small sample of fluid and cells from the amniotic sac surrounding your baby. The sample will then be tested and examined in a laboratory.
5. Maternal Serum Screen
It is also known as a triple test, quad screen, triple screen multiple marker screen, and AFP. It is performed between the 15th and the 20th week of pregnancy. Its goal is to measure the risk of chromosomal disorders and neural tube defects.
It involves drawing and analyzing your blood sample to measure the level of various substances. If the results suggest high risks or the doctor notices something’s wrong, they will recommend additional tests.
6. Ultrasound exam
Some doctors perform an ultrasound exam every trimester, more during the last one. Others prefer to leave these exams for later. You should expect to have one for sure between your 18th and 20th week of pregnancy.
The goal of the exam is to identify signs of or rule out any problems with your baby’s organs and systems. It will also confirm the age of your baby and whether they are developing normally.
Another piece of information it may be able to provide is whether you’re expecting a boy or a girl.
To perform it, the doctor will spread a colorless gel on your abdomen. They will move a special tool over your belly to send sound waves to your uterus. By analyzing the sound waves, the ultrasound device recreates your baby’s image on a monitor.
7. Glucose Challenge Screening
Usually performed during the 26-28 week pregnancy period, the test aims to measure gestational diabetes risk. It requires that you consume a sugary drink your doctor will provide. Within one hour from finishing the drink, your doctor will take a blood sample and check your blood sugar levels.
If the results suggest an increased risk, doctors usually recommend glucose tolerance tests. In order to test your glucose tolerance, your doctor will give you a special diet to follow for a couple of days before the test.
During the last 14 hours before the test, you are not allowed to eat and you can only drink small amounts of water.
The doctor will take a blood sample to determine your blood glucose level. Then, they will request that you consume the same sugary drink administered at the routine screening.
They will test your blood glucose level every hour for three hours in a row, to assess your body’s ability to process sugar.
8. Nonstress test
This test, also known as NST, is commonly performed after the 28th week of pregnancy to monitor the baby’s health. It will look for signs of distress, like insufficient oxygenation.
To perform it, the doctor will place a belt around your belly and measure your baby’s heart rate correlated to their movement inside your womb.
9. Group B Streptococcus test
Usually performed in the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy, this test aims to identify bacteria that could cause pneumonia or another serious infection in your baby. The doctor will use a swab to collect cells from your rectum and vagina and send the sample for testing.
10. Biophysical Profile
The BPP test is standard for the third trimester of pregnancy. Its goal is to monitor your baby’s health and help the doctor assess if early delivery is necessary. The test consists of an ultrasound and a nonstress test. It measures your baby’s breathing, movements, heart rate, and muscle tone, as well as the amniotic fluid amount.
The tests reviewed above are routine, standard recommendations for most doctors. They are generally safe, and not something for you to worry about. Even if their results show a higher risk of certain affections, it does not mean something is wrong with your baby.
Your doctor will explain what the results mean and, if necessary, recommend further tests. They will also answer any questions you may have, so don’t hesitate to ask. It is better to get answers and put your mind at ease than worry about nothing and submit your baby to unnecessary stress.
As your pregnancy advances, you may be offered keepsake ultrasound services. We recommend avoiding them. While they could make a great addition to your pregnancy scrapbook, they are not always performed by professionals and they expose your baby to unnecessary stress.
Throughout your last trimester of pregnancy, monitor your baby’s movements. Babies are most active in the evening. If you stay still or lie down, you should be able to count about 10 moves within 20 minutes, 2 hours at most. If you count less than 10 movements within 2 hours or you notice major changes in your baby’s activity levels, contact your doctor.
Now you know what to expect. Chances are your pregnancy will advance trouble-free and you’ll have nothing to worry about. Don’t hesitate to discuss any concerns with your doctor and, of course, share them in a comment below. Also, share this post with your expecting friends and your family, to keep them informed and ensure their support as you go through prenatal care!
Mihaela is a proud mother of two, happily married to the love of her life and passionate about reading, music, healthy cooking, and child psychology. A sociologist and expert copywriter, she now channels her knowledge and experience in writing for Iris Content, AM Navigator, Top 10 Picks, and, last but not least, her soul-project, BebeYoga.