Prenatal Testing

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A pregnant woman may choose to have tests during pregnancy to check if the fetus is developing normally.

Some common tests include

  • Ultrasound
  • Multiple Marker Screening
  • CVS chorionic villus sampling
  • Amniocentesis

Many women worry when they have prenatal testing. But you should be reassured to know that most tests do not find any abnormalities, and show that the pregnancy is developing normally.

Below are some basic answers to questions about the most common procedures. Be sure to talk with your health care provider about the pros and cons of testing, and whether testing is right for you.

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    What Is an Ultrasound?

    Ultrasound allows a health care provider to take pictures of the embryo or fetus as it develops. An ultrasound scan builds a picture of the embryo or fetus on a screen by bouncing sound waves into your uterus. Ultrasound is also called a sonogram. Depending on when it is done during pregnancy, it may

    • confirm your due date
    • find certain abnormalities
    • find multiple pregnancies
    • measure the length of your cervix
    • show the position and size of the fetus
    • show the position of the placenta

    Ultrasound is a very safe procedure no x-rays are involved.

    Between 11 and 13 weeks of pregnancy, some providers combine a blood test with a special kind of ultrasound. Some providers refer to this as the combined test. It is used to screen for Down syndrome and other genetic birth defects.

    How Is an Ultrasound Done?

    There are two ways to do an ultrasound through the abdomen or through the vagina. Ultrasounds may be performed by your health care provider or by a trained ultrasound technician.

    During an abdominal ultrasound, your provider will place the ultrasound wand on your abdomen, using a small amount of gel to help lubricate the area. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.

    During a vaginal ultrasound, your provider will insert the ultrasound wand into the vagina. This may feel similar to a vaginal exam. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.

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    What Is the Multiple Marker Screening?

    The multiple marker screening is another type of prenatal testing and is sometimes called the triple or quadruple screen. It is usually performed between weeks 15 and 20. The health care provider will draw some of your blood to screen for Down syndrome, spina bifida, and other birth defects. Your health care provider will offer you other tests if the multiple marker screening reveals an increased risk of birth defects.

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    What Is CVS Chorionic Villus Sampling?

    Chorionic villus sampling, or CVS, is a kind of prenatal testing that examines the tissue attaching the fetus to the wall of the uterus. CVS is usually performed between 10 and 12 weeks of pregnancy.

    You may consider CVS if

    • you are over age 35
    • you or your partner has a family history that reveals a risk of certain birth defects
    • you have had a child with a major birth defect

    How Is a CVS done?

    CVS can be done in two ways a thin tube can be inserted through the cervix or a thin needle is inserted through the stomach. Ultrasound is used to guide the needle in both methods.

    CVS is generally painless. However, you may feel cramping or have bleeding or spotting after CVS. Symptoms usually stop within a few days. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have any discomfort or bleeding.

    CVS is generally safe. After CVS, there is a slight chance of infection, injury to the fetus, or having early labor.

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    What Is Amniocentesis?

    Amniocentesis is another form of prenatal testing. This test examines amniotic fluid the fluid that surrounds and protects the fetus. Amniocentesis finds certain birth defects. It is usually done between 15 and 18 weeks of pregnancy.

    You may consider amniocentesis if

    • you are over age 35
    • your multiple marker screening shows a need for more testing
    • you or your partner has a family history that reveals a risk of certain birth defects or other disorders
    • you have had a child with a major birth defect

    How Is the Amniocentesis Done?

    A health care provider inserts a long, thin needle into the abdomen to take out a small amount of fluid. Your health care provider will use the pictures from the ultrasound to guide the needle.

    Amniocentesis is generally painless many women report having no pain at all, but some women report mild discomfort.

    Amniocentesis is also generally safe. However, as with CVS, there is a slight chance of infection, injury to the fetus, or early labor.

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