FAQs: Prenatal Tests

FAQs: Prenatal Tests

Lea este articulo en Espanol

Every parent-to-be hopes for a healthy baby, but it can be hard not to worry: What if the baby has a serious or untreatable health problem? What would I do? Is there anything I can do to prevent problems?

Concerns like these are completely natural. Fortunately, a wide array of tests for pregnant women can help reassure them and keep them informed throughout their pregnancies.

What Do Prenatal Tests Find?

Prenatal tests can help identify health problems that could endanger both a woman and her unborn child, some of which are treatable. However, these tests do have limitations. As an expectant parent, it's important to educate yourself about them and to think about what you would do if a health problem was detected in either you or your baby.

What's a Screening Test

Prenatal tests are given in the first, second, and third trimesters. In a mother, they can determine key things about her health that can affect her baby's health, such as:

In a developing child, prenatal tests can identify:

The last two items on this list may seem the same, but there's a key difference. Some prenatal tests are screening tests and only reveal the possibility of a problem. Other prenatal tests are diagnostic, which means that they can determine — with a fair degree of certainty — whether a fetus has a specific problem. In the interest of making the more specific determination, the screening test may be followed by a diagnostic test.

Who Gets Prenatal Tests?

Certain prenatal tests are considered routine — that is, almost all pregnant women receiving prenatal care get them. They include things like checking urine levels for protein, sugar, or signs of infection.

Other non-routine tests are recommended only for certain women, especially those with high-risk pregnancies. These may include women who:

Although your health care provider (who may be your OB-GYN, family doctor, or a certified nurse-midwife) may recommend these tests, it's ultimately up to you to decide whether to have them.

Also, if you or your partner have a family history of genetic problems, you may want to consult with a genetic counselor to help you look at the history of problems in your family and to determine the risk to your children.

To decide which tests are right for you, it's important to carefully discuss with your health care provider:

Where Can I Get More Information?

Some prenatal tests can be stressful, and because many aren't definitive, even a negative result may not completely relieve any anxiety you might be experiencing. Because many women who have abnormal tests end up having healthy babies and because some of the problems that are detected can't be treated, some women decide not to have some of the tests.

One important thing to consider is what you'll do in the event that a birth defect or chromosomal abnormality is discovered. Your health care provider or a genetic counselor can help you establish priorities, give you the facts, and discuss your options.

It's also important to remember that tests are offered to women — they are not mandatory. You should feel free to ask your health care provider why he or she is ordering a certain test, what the risks and benefits are, and, most important, what the results will — and won't — tell you.

If you think that your health care provider isn't answering your questions adequately, you should say so. Things you might want to ask include:

You also can ask your health care provider for literature about each type of test.

How Can I Give My Baby a Good Start?

The best way for mothers-to-be to avoid birth defects and problems with the pregnancy is to take precautions, such as:

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: June 2013





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO
OrganizationMaternal and Child Health Bureau This U.S. government agency is charged with promoting and improving the health of mothers and children.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
OrganizationNational Society of Genetic Counselors This organization represents the genetic counseling profession through research, advocacy, and education.
OrganizationMarch of Dimes The March of Dimes seeks to prevent birth defects, infant mortality, low birthweight, and lack of prenatal care.
OrganizationAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) This site offers information on numerous health issues. The women's health section includes readings on pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum care, breast health, menopause, contraception, and more.
Web SiteMyPlate for Moms MyPlate for Moms tailors the USDA's food guide to suit the individual needs of pregnant and nursing women.
Web SiteLab Tests Online This non-commercial site was developed by laboratory professionals to educate caregivers, patients, and patients' families about lab tests.
Related Articles
Genetic Testing Advances in genetic testing have improved doctors' ability to diagnose and treat certain illnesses.
Prenatal Tests: First Trimester Find out what tests may be offered to you during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Birth Plans In the happy haze of early pregnancy, the reality of labor and birth may seem extremely far off - which makes this the perfect time to start planning for the arrival of your baby by creating a birth plan that details your wishes.
A Week-by-Week Pregnancy Calendar Pregnancy is an exciting time. Our week-by-week illustrated pregnancy calendar is a detailed guide to all the changes taking place in your baby - and in you!
Staying Healthy During Pregnancy During your pregnancy, you'll probably get advice from everyone. But staying healthy depends on you - read about the many ways to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.
Having a Healthy Pregnancy Whether you feel confused, worried, scared, or excited, you'll want to know how your life will change, what you can do to have a healthy baby.
Pregnancy & Newborn Center Advice and information for expectant and new parents.
Pregnancy Precautions: FAQs Questions regarding what you can and can't do during pregnancy abound. Knowing what could truly be harmful to your baby versus what's no real cause for concern is key to keeping your sanity throughout the 40 weeks.
Folic Acid and Pregnancy One of the most important things you can do to help prevent serious birth defects in your baby is to get enough folic acid every day - especially before conception and during early pregnancy.
What Is the Multiple Marker Test? Expectant mothers usually are offered a blood test called the multiple marker test, sometimes called a triple screen or a quad screen. Find out what it measures.
Prenatal Tests: Second Trimester Find out what tests may be offered to you during weeks 13 through 26 of pregnancy.
Prenatal Tests: Third Trimester Find out what tests may be offered to you during weeks 27 through 40 of pregnancy.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter