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Prenatal Screenings and Tests: What to Expect Every Trimester

Although getting pregnant is an exciting (life-altering) experience for most women, it can be a bit overwhelming with frequent doctor visits and all the information to digest and decisions to make. Not to mention all the unsolicited advice you’ll possibly get: “Do this, don’t do that, eat this, not that, remember this, etc.”

While the unsolicited advice can be a bit stressful, your trips to your doctor shouldn’t be. An essential part of ensuring your health and that of your baby is having certain prenatal and screening tests throughout your pregnancy.

“Prenatal testing is important because it provides information to the mother and allows her to make well-informed decisions regarding her baby,” said Lynn Coppola, MD, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “In high-risk cases, it allows for optimal planning for multi-disciplinary care prior to the delivery.”

Your doctor will perform a series of assessments over the course of your pregnancy to make sure you and your baby are staying healthy. These tests also let your doctor know if they need to adjust or to accommodate your care for any special conditions.

Prenatal screening tests: what to expect during every trimester

Pregnancy includes an array of routine and specialized tests. We’ve put together a list of the screening tests you can expect— or may consider—during your first, second and third trimester when it comes to tracking your baby’s health and your own.

Prenatal Tests to Expect by Trimester Infographic

Optional testing: Chromosomal and genetic screening and testing*

Based on your health and family history, your doctor can also use prenatal screenings and diagnostic tests:

  • Genetic screenings can identify whether your baby is more or less likely to have certain birth defects, but they won’t tell you for sure whether they have a condition or not. These include blood tests and ultrasounds.
  • Diagnostic tests will confirm the results whether your baby has any birth defects or genetic or chromosomal disorders, such as cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome. These tests include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling.

Although genetic screening tests are routinely offered to all women, they are considered optional. Diagnostic tests are generally reserved for women with high-risk results. Diagnostic tests can help you learn more about your baby’s condition and how to care for them after delivery.

“Most pregnant women have a low risk of having a baby with a significant genetic condition but still may consider genetic screening  tests to determine the chance of this happening,” Dr. Coppola said. “Talk to your doctor about which prenatal tests are right for you.”

Genetic screenings:

  • A nuchal translucency (11-14 weeks) is an ultrasound scan that measures the size of the clear space in the tissue at the back of the baby’s neck to screen for fetal abnormalities.
  • A non-invasive prenatal cell-free DNA screening (after 10 weeks) is now offered for all pregnant women to identify if their baby is higher risk for chromosome abnormalities. This blood test screens for Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21) and Trisomy 18, 13 and sex chromosome abnormalities.
  • A quad screen (15-20 weeks) is a maternal blood screening that looks for specific substances in your blood, combined with your age and ethnicity, to assess probabilities of genetic disorders.

Diagnostic tests:

  • Diagnostic tests like the chorionic villus sampling (11-14 weeks) or amniocentesis (after 15 weeks) are used for a definitive diagnosis of a genetic condition. These invasive tests take a sample of the placenta or amniotic fluid with a needle.

Speak to a genetic counselor

Prenatal screenings and diagnostic tests can help you make important health care decisions, but it’s important to talk with your doctor or a genetic counselor about the results and what they mean. A genetic counselor can help you decide what to do after a positive result and what life will be like for your child if they have a disorder.

Related reading:

*If you’re considering chromosomal or genetic screening and tests, talk to your doctor. If you have private insurance, check for insurance coverage and a preferred lab. Some insurance companies don’t cover some genetic testing. If not covered, call or discuss with your doctor.

Women's Health Pregnancy