Throughout your pregnancy, you will be making many choices and decisions about what tests and procedures you want to have done, and which you want avoid. Being pregnant can make you feel more vulnerable and sensitive to invasive tests and procedures because you feel protective over your body and the baby growing inside you. Trust those feelings, they are natural and instinctual. Pregnancy is the perfect time to get in touch with your body, learn to trust your intuition, and listen to that wisdom inside you.
The types of tests and procedures you will be offered will vary depending on which care provider you choose. Midwives tend to use less technology and rely on less invasive techniques of assessing your health and your baby’s development, OBGYN’s are trained to use more technology.
Aviva Jill Romm, midwife and author of The Natural Pregnancy Book, recommends that pregnant women’s health be assessed holistically. If this is important to you, choose a care provider who will evaluate your health by assessing your emotional, social, spiritual, psychological, and physical well-being and who respects you, who wishes to work with you in a partnership, makes you feel empowered, and encourages you to trust your instincts and intuition.
Most midwives and OBGYN’s will do some of the following prenatal tests, which are minimally invasive and recommended:
~ urine testing
~ checking your blood pressure, pulse, and weight gain
~ measuring your abdominal for uterine growth
~ feeling your abdomen for baby’s growth and position
~ listening to baby’s heart rate
~ blood test for type, Rh, hemoglobin, red and white blood cells, and STD’s
Some prenatal tests though are considered invasive and together with your care provider you can make choices about whether they are necessary for you and whether you feel comfortable having these tests:
An ultrasound machine uses high-frequency sound waves that bounce off your baby’s body and are then converted into an image. Ultrasound scans are useful to assess your baby’s development, health, and position, and the health of your placenta and amniotic fluid. Ultrasound scans are generally considered safe, but because of the risks associated with exposure to the waves, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) discourages the routine use of ultrasound scanning when there is no medical indication of a problem. Aviva Jill Rom, author of The Natural Pregnancy Book, recommends that if you do need to have an ultrasound because of a medical indication, request a highly experienced technician who will be able to complete an assessment quickly, therefore reducing the amount of time you and your baby have to be exposed to the ultrasound waves.
~ Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein Testing (MSAFP)
Your baby’s liver produces alpha-fetoprotein (AFP); this AFP is released into your bloodstream throughout your pregnancy. The MSAFP blood test is used to check how much AFP is in your bloodstream, and if there is too much or too little AFP, this indicates that your baby may have a disorder or abnormality. The risk associated with the MSAFP test is its’ inaccuracy so you may have to be tested multiple times and then have further testing to confirm the results. If you do need to have the MSAFP test, Romm recommends having it when it is easiest to get an accurate test result – between weeks 15-18 of your pregnancy.
Amniocentesis is usually given after an MSAFP test, to make further assessments about your baby’s health. This test checks for Down’s syndrome, Rh disease, metabolic diseases, cystic fibrosis, and lung maturity. The invasiveness of the test means that there are a lot of risks associated with amniocentesis, including damaging your umbilical cord, placenta, or uterus, which can cause miscarriage. If you and your care provider decide you want to have this test, your care provider should offer you sensitive and respectful counseling that supports you physically, emotionally, and spiritually during the waiting and decision making process.
~ Chorionic Villi Sampling (CVS)
CVS also checks for disorders, but it is done earlier in pregnancy between 9-11 weeks, detects chromosomal abnormalities, and cannot detect all the abnormalities that amniocentesis can. The risks associated with CVS are similar to those with amniocentesis, but potentially even more harmful because CVS can damage the embryo. Listen to your instincts about this, and your care provider should be able to help you process whether detection of abnormalities is important to you and how you feel about the risks.
Remember that you do have the right to choose what tests and procedures to have done – it is your body and your baby, and if you feel informed you will be able to harmonize knowledge with intuition when you make decisions about prenatal testing.
Book recommendation: The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm