When a woman is pregnant, every trip to the doctor's office can be full of excitement and fear. As much as a mom wants to hear that her little one is healthy, she knows with every test there is a possibility that she can get the opposite news, and that adds a whole new level of trepidation to every test.
There are some tests that moms shouldn't consider optional — it might be annoying to do a urine test and get their pressure checked at every appointment, but those tests can pick up on some major complications before it is too late. But there are other screenings that are optional and even more alarming. Some are invasive and risky, such as amniocentesis or umbilical cord sampling. These tests, though, can provide answers that might make them worth it.
Here are 10 frightening tests pregnant women can take (and five they definitely should).
There are a lot of reasons why moms-to-be have genetic testing done. It can be recommended for women over 35, and families with a history of certain conditions might want to go through screening before they get pregnant. It can be daunting but can give parents peace of mind before birth.
One of the most common ways to test the baby's DNA is through amniocentesis. It's a procedure when the doctor inserts a needle directly into the uterus to get a sample of the amniotic fluid. It's pretty accurate, but it's risky. The procedure can cause the mom to go into labor, and if it's early, that can put the baby's health at risk.
An alternative to amniocentesis is chorionic villus sampling, which involves getting a sample from the placenta. It can happen a couple of months before an amnio is possible. But the downside is that CVS is more limited. While it can rule out Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and other diseases, but it can't determine if the baby has a neural tube defect like spina bifida.
The glucose test is a must these days, and we'll get into that later. But some moms have to go through a second level of testing that is intense. They have to drink the same gross drink, but then they have to wait and sit at the OB's office for three more hours. They need a total of four plasma draws, and they have to fast for what seems like forever. If you are scared of needles, it's a lot.
Doctors have a newer more specialized way to test. It's a lot less common, but doctors can take plasma from the baby during pregnancy to diagnose abnormalities and check for other issues like infection and oxygen levels. The doctor can get a plasma sample from the umbilical cord. It's a really complex and risky procedure that can be done after 18 weeks.
As part of a normal test for a mom-to-be, there can be clues as to the health of the baby. One marker in the mom's red cells that can be an indication is called alpha-fetoprotein. Elevated levels can happen when pregnant with twins, but it can also be an indication that the baby might have a neural tube defect. The screening can happen between 15 and 20 weeks, and a positive result can be daunting, but that just means that more testing needs to be done.
For moms who are going through complications—or just have the early stages of contractions—sometimes the doctor orders a non-stress test. That means that the mom just sits with a monitor on her belly and hits a button when the baby kicks. But believe us, it still feels stressful. Many times the mom is already going through something, and she worries about her little one so much during this test, which if something seems off, could mean the baby's arrival is imminent.
No one likes going through a pap smear. It's one of the most uncomfortable situations that happens in any doctor's office for a woman. But it's a part of the first stage of pregnancy testing. If a mom isn't up-to-date on her pap smear, it will be done during one of the very first prenatal appointments. Doctors just want to make sure that the equipment is healthy as early as possible, but that doesn't mean it's pleasant.
Most of the tests involving genetic issues like Down syndrome are risky. But there is one option that isn't invasive. It's called nuchal translucency screening, and just that name can be daunting. In the first trimester, the ultrasound tech can measure the amount of fluid in the neck to get an indication of the likelihood. It's not as accurate, so the doctor might recommend more tests, which can add to the tension.
The last intimidating test comes right before birth. During the labor, most hospitals require fetal monitoring, but some say that can be a problem. It certainly can be frightening. During labor, a baby's heartbeat will go up and down with the contractions. Some people think that doctors are more likely to get alarmed and rush delivery with fetal monitoring, but the truth is that it can be worrisome to see the results and wonder if the baby is in distress.
An ultrasound might seem exciting, but many women don't realize that in the first trimester it's not done the way that they show it on TV. The doctor will come in with a wand, and it can be alarming when a woman realizes that they are going in down below. But the test is one they should definitely perform. It's usually the first time the mom hears the heartbeat, and that is a positive sign for the beginning of the pregnancy.
Women can get all kinds of infections down below, many of which have symptoms that alert her to the problem. But a common bacterial infection called group B strep can be harmless for adults but really serious if it's passed on to the baby after the birth. Doctors want to test for the illness a few weeks before the birth, so a mom with a positive test can get antibiotics before the birth or the baby can get them afterward.
At every OB appointment, a mom-to-be will have her pressure checked. That might seem annoying, but it's really important, since high pressure can be a big issue for the mom's health. It's one of the most common issues for pregnant women these days, but it makes them more likely to have strokes or clots or other issues. Doctors need to keep a close eye on the mom's pressure for all nine months, and that can be especially true in the third trimester.
Pregnant women also have to pee in a cup pretty often. That's something that can be gross and off-putting, but it's really important. The sample can help detect dangerous issues like gestational diabetes that slipped by from the glucose screening or preeclampsia, which can be life-threatening for mom and baby. The tests are really important, so moms need to perform them — and then wash their hands.
Many people think that the 20-week ultrasound is a fun appointment where parents get a sneak peek at the baby and get to learn the little one's gender. But it's actually a really important prenatal test and should be treated that way. The majority of the appointment will be about the technician taking measurements of the baby's organs, the amniotic fluid, the placenta, the umbilical cord and other parts. It's important because doctors can learn a lot about the baby's health and make a plan for any treatment, if necessary.
Sources: Hopkins Med., WebMD, UCLA, MedicineNet, Baby Center, Mayo Clinic