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The complete guide to first trimester pregnancy tests

By now you're probably aware that pregnancy comes with its fair share of doctor visits. They're called prenatal care, and they're essential for monitoring the health of you and your baby. These visits can come with a variety of tests, which will vary from trimester to trimester.

Learning more about the tests you may receive can help you feel more prepared and empowered to have a healthy pregnancy. For that reason, let's go through the prenatal tests you may have during your first trimester. 

What tests do you need? 

Starting with your first prenatal care visit, your provider may suggest some tests that all pregnant women typically get. Some may be repeated at later visits. These tests can help find problems early, so that they can be treated or managed to reduce your risk of complications. For instance, you may have:

  • Blood pressure checks to look for pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).
  • Blood tests to check for certain infections (including sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis and HIV); anemia (which can make you very tired); and hepatitis B and rubella (German measles) immunity. 
  • Tests that look for urinary tract infections. 
  • Tests to check your blood type and Rh factor status. Rh is a protein on the surface of red blood cells. If you don't have the Rh factor (you're Rh negative), and your baby does (Rh positive), it can cause problems for your baby. Good news: Rh-related problems can be prevented with treatment.

Other first-trimester tests you can get

Your provider may also recommend other tests to check for signs or risks of birth defects. Whether you need these tests is often based on whether you have risk factors for these conditions—such as if you're older than 35 or have a family history of genetic disorders. 

Some of these exams are called screening tests. These show if your baby is at risk for a health condition. But the tests can't definitely answer whether or not your baby has a condition. When a screening test comes back as abnormal, a diagnostic test may be ordered to confirm if your baby has a health problem. Some diagnostic tests may pose a small risk to the baby (such as miscarriage). Screening tests do not pose a risk.

During your first trimester, you and your provider can decide which of these tests may be right for you: 

  • Carrier screening. This test will check to see if you or your partner carry a gene for conditions like cystic fibrosis. It uses a blood or saliva sample.
  • Cell-free fetal DNA testing. This test checks your baby's DNA in your blood to screen for genetic conditions such as Down syndrome. This test can be done at around 10 weeks.
  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS). In this diagnostic test, a needle collects a small sample of cells from the placenta. Some women get this test at 10 to 13 weeks. It helps providers check for chromosomal and genetic disorders, like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis. 
  • First-trimester screening. This test is usually done at 11 to 14 weeks. It checks to see if your baby has a higher risk of chromosomal disorders (including Down syndrome and trisomy 18) or heart defects. It combines a blood test with an ultrasound exam that measures the back of your baby's neck.

Remember: Whether you have testing for birth defects is up to you. Some women decide that finding out helps them better prepare for their baby's arrival. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours, mom-to-be.

Do you know the signs of miscarriage? 

Staying informed helps you get the proper level of care. Learn the warning signs and symptoms of a miscarriage

Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; March of Dimes; Office on Women's Health

Reviewed 2/26/2021

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