Sunday, February 19, 2012

Testing times

The routine pregnancy tests that are important for you and your baby
As a mum of two, I can clearly remember each time I discovered I was pregnant. 
The little test showing a positive result fills your heart with an incredible joy, excitement, sometimes fear, sometimes anxiety, but an overwhelming feeling that your life will never be the same again.
That test is also the first of many tests that will take place during your pregnancy that are important for your health and the health of your baby.
The aim of all of these tests is to identify any potential or existing health concerns before any obvious physical signs are present as early treatments can help prevent or minimise the effects of a condition.
Some tests are essential components of your regular pregnancy visits with your caregiver (midwife, obstetrician or GP), such as blood pressure, feeling your belly and estimating the fundal height, and listening to your baby’s heartbeat.
While other tests may be required to be sent to pathology for examination such as blood tests, vaginal swabs or urine tests.
Some tests are used only for women in certain circumstances, and you can decide to decline having the test if you so wish.
Blood tests are not much fun, but are vital during pregnancy.
First of all, it is important for your caregiver to have a formal, written report stating what your blood group is in case you require a blood transfusion at any stage during the pregnancy or after birth, due to excessive bleeding or haemorrhage.

A blood group test also identifies your blood’s Rh (Rhesus) factor, being either positive or negative, and also screens for antibodies.
If you are Rh-negative you may have an immune reaction if Rh-positive blood cells enter the bloodstream. This can happen during a miscarriage, abortion or childbirth.
The mother’s immune system makes antibodies (called anti-D antibodies) against the Rh-positive blood cells. 
If the mother conceives another Rh-positive baby, her anti-D antibodies will attack her unborn baby’s red blood cells and this complication is called haemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN).
Vaccination of the Rh-negative mother during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth to her Rh-positive baby helps to protect future pregnancies against HDN.
A mother who is Rh-positive does not need the vaccine because her pregnancies carry no risk of Rh incompatibility.
A full blood count (FBC) is usually part of your first pregnancy visit and often repeated at 28 to 30 weeks and again at 36 weeks.
FBC looks at many components of the blood, but in particular the haemoglobin (Hb) which indicates iron levels, and platelets or thrombocytes, which play a vital role in helping blood to clot and control bleeding.
Blood tests will also check for rubella, syphilis, Hep B, Hep C, and HIV/AIDS all of which can be harmful to your unborn child.
A glucose tolerance blood test (GTT) aims to detect diabetes caused by pregnancy, called gestational diabetes. About 2.6 per cent of pregnant women have diabetes which can increase the chances of having a larger than normal baby and this can create various complications.
Urine tests look for various things such as an infection, too much protein (which can be a sign of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia) and ketones (to monitor hydration).
Unless there are health concerns or complications, there is usually no reason to have routine vaginal examinations during pregnancy. 
Some medical reasons for vaginal examinations may include: performing a pap test, checking for signs of infection, looking for a cause of bleeding, preventing medical induction, making decisions about induction methods or seeing if the waters have broken.
Group B streptococcus is a naturally occurring bacterium commonly present in various parts of the body.
Group B strep tests for pregnant women have only been performed since the early 1990s and it has become more routine because of the small possibility that the bacteria will be passed onto the baby during pregnancy, labour or birth.
The health risks for babies that do become infected can include difficulty breathing, pneumonia, generalised infection, meningitis or in some cases the infection can be fatal.
Group B strep is detected either by a vaginal swab or a urine test during pregnancy.
In the past, women were routinely weighed at every pregnancy visit, however research has not been able to find any substantial benefits to justify monitoring this through pregnancy.
You will probably be asked to weigh yourself at your first visit to give your caregiver a baseline weight, and then possibly a few more times during the pregnancy. 
Old habits die hard and many caregivers continue to weigh their patients at every visit (or women ask to be weighed) but be careful not to create any unnecessary anxiety about not putting on enough weight, or putting on too much.
Genetic testing is also something which some parents undertake as they are known carriers of a potentially harmful or life-threatening condition.
As well as all of the above tests, there are also ultrasounds which allow caregivers to take a much closer look at the baby.
Ultrasounds monitor heartbeat, see any abnormalities such as cleft lip or neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and ensure the baby, placenta and uterus are as they should be during pregnancy.


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