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Medical Tests During Pregnancy & Their Definitions Part 2

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In Part 1 of our Pregnancy Medical Test Definitions, we talked about invasive tests. If you are low-risk, you probably won’t have any of those. Most moms, though, will have various non-invasive tests. Some are part of prenatal visits, and some are necessary for high-risk pregnancies.

These tests don’t affect how you plan your birth, but understanding them can help you feel more relaxed about all the new words you’re suddenly expected to know just because you’re pregnant.

Non-invasive tests

Are performed without going into the body for biological samples. They are usually done through either a blood draw, urinary or vaginal culture, or an ultrasound. They are less risky and less traumatic to mom and baby.

– Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT)[1]

Also called “Cell-free DNA” test – uses a blood sample from you. It checks fetal DNA for the risk of Down syndrome, extra chromosomes (Trisomy 13 or 18), or a sex chromosome abnormality like Turner syndrome. It can also test baby’s sex and rhesus (Rh) blood type.

– Nuchal (nyook-al) Translucency Screen[2]

Measures the nuchal fold thickness on the back of the fetus’ neck. When a baby has Down syndrome or other genetic problems, this area appears thicker than normal in ultrasound scans.

It’s measured via ultrasound around 10-14 weeks of pregnancy.


Trimester Screens

Are tests done during the first and second trimesters. They are a combination of maternal blood draws plus an ultrasound. The four main ones are:

  • Combined first trimester screen – blood test plus ultrasound exam. Tests for Down syndrome, Trisomy 13, and Trisomy 18.
  • Second trimester single screen – blood test for neural tube defects.
  • Second trimester quad screen – blood test for Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Edward’s syndrome (Trisomy 18), spinal bifida, and anencephaly[3].

Cervical length measurement[4]

An ultrasound test that measures the length of the cervix in order to prevent pre-term birth.  Fifty percent (50%) of women with short cervixes at or before 32 weeks of pregnancy go into preterm labor.

It is done in three ways: transabdominal, transvaginal, and transperineal, after the second trimester.

– Specialized or targeted ultrasound comes in different forms:

  • Specialized ultrasound looks at suspected fetal problems. It uses a more sophisticated machine and can take significantly longer than normal.
  • 3-D ultrasound evaluates baby’s growth, development, facial abnormalities, or neural tube defects.
  • Doppler ultrasound gives information about baby’s circulation.
  • Fetal echocardiography (echo-card-ee-og-ra-fee) gives images of baby’s heart to confirm or rule out heart defects.

– Prenatal lab work and tests

Routine tests to detect conditions that may cause increased risk to you or your baby.  They are done after the first prenatal exam and include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood type for Rh factor
  • Urinalysis
  • Rubella
  • Hepatitis B & C
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Vitamin D

– Biophysical (by-o-fizz-i-cal) profile

Checks to see how baby’s doing in the last trimester of pregnancy. It tests (via an external monitor strapped to your belly) fetal heart rate, breathing, movements, and muscle tone. Placental health and amniotic fluid level are checked via ultrasound.

For a thorough list of pregnancy tests of all kinds, you can check out

The magic of pregnancy can be overshadowed by worrying about things you don’t understand. By knowing these tests – and how to pronounce them – you can ask better questions, get better answers, and help your care provider do their best for you and your baby.

Having good communication with your care provider is invaluable to helping you define your birth preferences and write your birth plan. Then, when you create your hospital bag checklist, you know the final version of your birth plan agrees with how you, your family, and your care provider approach the birth you planned and dream of.






To learn more about pregnancy, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.

This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and the Graceful Birth Center founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner.  These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.

Published: December 25, 2015 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: Kim Walls, Natural Products Expert, Elizabeth Bachner, LM, CPM, L.Ac., Midwife | Last reviewed: December, 2015


Sabriga TurgonMedical Tests During Pregnancy & Their Definitions Part 2

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