Prenatal tests

KEY POINTS

  • You get routine prenatal tests, like a blood pressure check and a urine test, at each prenatal visit.
  • You get other prenatal tests, like an ultrasound or special blood tests, at certain times during pregnancy or if you have certain problems.  

  • Talk to your provider about which tests you should have. 

  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine.

What are prenatal tests?

Prenatal tests are medical tests you get during pregnancy. They help your health care provider find out how you and your baby are doing. 

What prenatal tests are done in the first trimester? 

You can have several tests in your first trimester. Talk to your provider to find out which tests are right for you. 

  • Cell-free fetal DNA testing (also called noninvasive prenatal screening or testing). Tests your blood for your baby’s DNA to see if he may have certain genetic conditions, like Down syndrome. This test is done after 10 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may recommend the test if an ultrasound shows that your baby may have a birth defect or if you've already had a baby with a birth defect. It’s not recommended for women who aren't likely to have a baby with a birth defect or who are pregnant with multiples (more than one baby, like twins or triplets). It’s called noninvasive because it’s done with a blood test. It doesn’t require any other tools that break the skin or enter your body. If you have this test, your provider may recommend you have an invasive test, like amniocentesis, to confirm the results.  
  • Chorionic villus sampling (also called CVS). A test that checks tissue from the placenta to see if a baby has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. CVS is done at 10 to 13 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may want you to have CVS if you’re older than 35, if genetic conditions run in your family, or if your first-trimester screening shows that your baby is at increased risk for birth defects.
  • Cystic fibrosis (also called CF) carrier screening. Tests to see if you have the gene that causes CF. CF is a disease that affects breathing and digestion. If you and your partner have the gene, you can pass CF to your baby. You and your partner can have this test any time during pregnancy.
  • Early ultrasound (also called first-trimester ultrasound). Confirms (makes sure) that you’re pregnant. It also dates your pregnancy, so you know how many weeks pregnant you are. An ultrasound uses sound waves and a computer screen to show a picture of your baby inside the womb.
  • First-trimester screening. Tests to see if your baby may be at risk for some birth defects, like Down syndrome and heart defects. You get a blood test and an ultrasound as part of this test. The test usually is done at 11 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

What tests are done in the second trimester? 

As you get further along in your pregnancy, your provider may offer you these prenatal tests:

  • Maternal blood screening (also called quad screen). Tests your blood to see if your baby is at risk for some birth defects, like Down syndrome. It’s called a quad screen because it measures four substances in the mother's blood: alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), estriol, human chorionic gonadostropin (hCG) and inhibin A. The test is done at 15 to 22 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Amniocentesis (also called amnio). Tests the amniotic fluid from around your baby to see if he has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. The test usually is done at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may want you to have an amnio for the same reasons as for CVS.
  • Ultrasound. Helps your provider make sure your baby is growing and check for birth defects. It’s usually done at 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Glucose screening. Tests to see if you have gestational diabetes. This is a kind of diabetes that some women get during pregnancy. You get this test at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

By about 5 months (20 weeks) of pregnancy, you should start to feel your baby move. If you don’t, tell your provider. As you get farther along in pregnancy, tell your provider if you notice any change in how often your baby moves, especially if he moves less often. Your provider may want you to keep track of how often your baby moves. This is called kick counts or fetal movement counts. 

Here are two ways to do kick counts:

  1. Every day, time how long it takes for your baby to move ten times. If it takes longer than 2 hours, tell your provider.

  2. See how many movements you feel in 1 hour. Do this three times each week. If the number changes, tell your provider.  

What tests are done during the third trimester? 

In your last trimester, your provider does a test for group B strep (also called GBS). Group B strep is an infection you can pass to your baby during birth. The test checks fluid from your cervix to see if you have GBS. You get this test at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Tell your provider if you notice any change in how often your baby moves. 

See also: Vaccinations and pregnancyChoosing your prenatal care provider

Last reviewed: July, 2016

What are prenatal tests?

Prenatal tests are medical tests you get during pregnancy. They help your health care provider find out how you and your baby are doing. 

What prenatal tests are done in the first trimester? 

You can have several tests in your first trimester. Talk to your provider to find out which tests are right for you. 

  • Cell-free fetal DNA testing (also called noninvasive prenatal screening or testing). Tests your blood for your baby’s DNA to see if he may have certain genetic conditions, like Down syndrome. This test is done after 10 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may recommend the test if an ultrasound shows that your baby may have a birth defect or if you've already had a baby with a birth defect. It’s not recommended for women who aren't likely to have a baby with a birth defect or who are pregnant with multiples (more than one baby, like twins or triplets). It’s called noninvasive because it’s done with a blood test. It doesn’t require any other tools that break the skin or enter your body. If you have this test, your provider may recommend you have an invasive test, like amniocentesis, to confirm the results.  
  • Chorionic villus sampling (also called CVS). A test that checks tissue from the placenta to see if a baby has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. CVS is done at 10 to 13 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may want you to have CVS if you’re older than 35, if genetic conditions run in your family, or if your first-trimester screening shows that your baby is at increased risk for birth defects.
  • Cystic fibrosis (also called CF) carrier screening. Tests to see if you have the gene that causes CF. CF is a disease that affects breathing and digestion. If you and your partner have the gene, you can pass CF to your baby. You and your partner can have this test any time during pregnancy.
  • Early ultrasound (also called first-trimester ultrasound). Confirms (makes sure) that you’re pregnant. It also dates your pregnancy, so you know how many weeks pregnant you are. An ultrasound uses sound waves and a computer screen to show a picture of your baby inside the womb.
  • First-trimester screening. Tests to see if your baby may be at risk for some birth defects, like Down syndrome and heart defects. You get a blood test and an ultrasound as part of this test. The test usually is done at 11 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

What tests are done in the second trimester? 

As you get further along in your pregnancy, your provider may offer you these prenatal tests:

  • Maternal blood screening (also called quad screen). Tests your blood to see if your baby is at risk for some birth defects, like Down syndrome. It’s called a quad screen because it measures four substances in the mother's blood: alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), estriol, human chorionic gonadostropin (hCG) and inhibin A. The test is done at 15 to 22 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Amniocentesis (also called amnio). Tests the amniotic fluid from around your baby to see if he has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. The test usually is done at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Your provider may want you to have an amnio for the same reasons as for CVS.
  • Ultrasound. Helps your provider make sure your baby is growing and check for birth defects. It’s usually done at 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Glucose screening. Tests to see if you have gestational diabetes. This is a kind of diabetes that some women get during pregnancy. You get this test at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

By about 5 months (20 weeks) of pregnancy, you should start to feel your baby move. If you don’t, tell your provider. As you get farther along in pregnancy, tell your provider if you notice any change in how often your baby moves, especially if he moves less often. Your provider may want you to keep track of how often your baby moves. This is called kick counts or fetal movement counts. 

Here are two ways to do kick counts:

  1. Every day, time how long it takes for your baby to move ten times. If it takes longer than 2 hours, tell your provider.

  2. See how many movements you feel in 1 hour. Do this three times each week. If the number changes, tell your provider.  

What tests are done during the third trimester? 

In your last trimester, your provider does a test for group B strep (also called GBS). Group B strep is an infection you can pass to your baby during birth. The test checks fluid from your cervix to see if you have GBS. You get this test at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Tell your provider if you notice any change in how often your baby moves. 

See also: Vaccinations and pregnancyChoosing your prenatal care provider

Last reviewed: July, 2016