Prenatal healthcare is of paramount importance, and regular screening can help you optimize your child’s prenatal care and development. You can conduct many screenings, tests, and imaging techniques to check your baby’s health during pregnancy.
There are several common tests during pregnancy that expectant mothers may undergo to monitor the health and development of the fetus. One of the most common tests is an ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of the uterus. Ultrasounds are typically done at various stages throughout pregnancy to confirm the due date, check for multiple pregnancies, monitor fetal growth and development, and assess the position of the placenta. Another common test is the prenatal blood test to screen for chromosomal abnormalities or genetic disorders.
These blood tests are typically done between 10 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, expectant mothers may also undergo a non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) which is a blood test that can be done as early as 10 weeks of pregnancy to detect the risk of chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome or Edwards Syndrome. Women with high-risk pregnancies may also undergo other tests like amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) which involves taking samples of the amniotic fluid or placenta to check for chromosomal abnormalities and genetic disorders.
Types of Common Tests During Pregnancy
The two types of tests include the following.
- Screening Tests – Screening tests help detect if the baby has pre-existing problems like genetic disorders. Prenatal screening tests are conducted during the first and second trimesters.
- Diagnostic Tests – Screening tests sometimes do not produce a conclusive result. This is when diagnostic tests confirm the speculation of a genetic disorder (or its absence).
Genetic disorders occur when a mutation affects your baby’s genes or chromosomes. Some of these disorders can be diagnosed before birth. Examples: Cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Hemophilia A, Polycystic kidney disease, Sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs disease, and Thalassemia. Regular screening can help you detect the presence of these disorders and diagnose and treat them effectively.
Types of Screening Tests
The multiple types of screening tests are discussed below.
1 – First-Trimester Screening
The first trimester is from the first to the thirteenth week of pregnancy. Screening in this period combines fetal ultrasound and maternal blood testing. First-trimester screening helps detect early signs of a genetic disorder in the baby.
Some of them are as follows.
- Ultrasound for fetal nuchal translucency – The nuchal fold is the tissue at the back of a baby’s neck. This test involves measuring the length and thickness of this tissue. Along with that, it measures the presence of fluid in the tissue.
- Ultrasound for fetal nasal bone determination – In the case of Down syndrome, the baby’s nasal bone is not visible. This ultrasound helps detect any irregularity in the baby’s nasal bone.
Maternal serum (blood) tests. Abnormal levels of hormones in the mother can also lead to chromosomal abnormalities. Some of these hormones are plasma protein and human chorionic gonadotropin. The presence and quantity of these hormones are checked through blood tests.
2 – Second-Trimester Prenatal Screening
The second trimester lasts from week 13 to the end of week 26 of the pregnancy. If a disorder is detected in the first-trimester screening, second-trimester screening is helpful to provide the required information about the genetic conditions. Several blood tests called Physicians might take multiple markers (like the following) to receive this information.
- AFP screening – AFP stands for Alpha-fetoprotein. This is a protein present in the fluid surrounding the fetus. It is essential to ensure that AFP is present in the right amounts. If it is miscalculated, the due dates may vary, and there can be defects in the abdominal wall or even open neural tube defects.
- Estriol – It is a kind of estrogen hormone. It helps develop the baby and maintains the health of the uterus. These blood tests are done to determine the health of the fetus.
- Inhibin – It is a hormone responsible for the regulation of differentiation of the embryo.
- Human chorionic gonadotropin – It is one of the hormones that helps thicken the mother’s uterine lining. HCG levels continue to rise until about 10 weeks into pregnancy and are measured through blood tests.
These imaging tests use sound waves to produce an image of the baby. These are conducted at different intervals in your pregnancy to check the growth of the fetus, estimate your due date, and look for any structural abnormalities in the baby.
Types of Ultrasounds
Ultrasound can be of the following two types.
- Abdominal ultrasound – As the name suggests, an ultrasound transducer glides over the gel applied to the abdomen to create the image of the fetus.
- Transvaginal ultrasound – This type of ultrasound involves the insertion of a smaller transducer into your vagina, which rests against the back of the vagina to create an image.
Why Are Ultrasounds?
In the first trimester, ultrasounds can be useful to establish the due date or determine the number of fetuses and identify placental structures. You can have an ultrasound in the mid-trimester to examine fetal anomalies or blood flow patterns. In the third trimester, ultrasounds are conducted to check fetal growth and its position.
Ultrasound Imaging Techniques
Ultrasound techniques used depend on the procedural requirement and the amount of information seeking. On that basis, they can be divided into the following three.
- 2-D ultrasound provides a flat picture of one side of the baby.
- 3-D ultrasound creates a 3-D image of the baby’s width, height, and depth. It is used when the 2D ultrasound can assess little information.
- 4-D ultrasound helps to visualize the unborn baby moving in real-time. Unlike the former two, these images are continuously updated, giving a life-like view of the baby. It is one of the latest technologies in this field. These images often have a golden color, which helps show shadows and highlights.
Ultimately, ultrasound helps give information to parents and doctors for early detection and diagnosis of genetic disorders.
Many additional tests can be conducted during pregnancy, like amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling (CVS), fetal monitoring, glucose testing, and Group B strep culture.
An amniocentesis is a test to check if the baby has a chromosomal disorder. During amniocentesis, the physician inserts a long, thin needle through your abdomen into the amniotic sac. The aim is to withdraw a sample of amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid contains cells having genetic information. It is generally conducted between the 15th and 20th week of pregnancy. It is also conducted on women above 35 at the time of delivery.
- Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)
CVS involves the collection of a small amount of placental tissue. Genetic problems can be detected as the fetus has the same genetic material. CVS is advisable for women with a history of genetic disorders. The ideal time for performing this test is between the tenth and thirteenth week of pregnancy.
- Fetal Monitoring
Fetal heart rate monitoring includes checking the rate and rhythm of the fetal heartbeat using a fetoscope. It can also be performed with a hand-held Doppler device. Continuous electronic fetal monitoring is often used during labor to check the baby’s heartbeat. 120 and 160 beats per minute is the average fetal heart rate.
- Glucose Testing
Glucose testing is essential to see the possibility of gestational diabetes. It measures the amount of sugar in your body. This test is usually conducted between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. A glucose tolerance test is conducted if abnormalities are found in the initial one-hour test, also known as the glucose challenge test. Patients are advised to only drink water on the day the glucose tolerance test is given for accurate results.
- Group B Strep Culture
Group B strep, also known as streptococcus, is a common bacterium found in the intestines or lower genital tract of almost 20% of women. It can be harmful to both mother and the child. During pregnancy, it may be responsible for chorioamnionitis, a severe infection of the placental tissues, and postpartum infection. It can also cause contagious diseases in newborn babies, including pneumonia and meningitis.
To Sum Up
The health and well-being of the mother and baby should not be taken for granted. Prenatal tests can help you understand the vital signs of your baby’s growth and take precautionary steps in case of genital disorder. You can get in touch with our highly qualified healthcare professionals to learn about prenatal tests and their prerequisites or specifications.