There are many tests offered during different stages of pregnancy. Your doctor, midwife or obstetrician will talk about these tests during your antenatal appointments
1. Nuchal translucency scan or Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT)
11 – 13 weeks
These tests screen for genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome. They do not provide a definite result but they estimate if there is a high risk or low risk. If these tests indicate a high risk of a genetic condition, you may be offered other diagnostic tests which can give a definite result. A genetic counsellor may help you understand what a high risk test results means or give more information about diagnostic tests.
Nuchal translucency is measured on an ultrasound scan, usually on your abdomen. It measures the fluid-filled space at the back of a baby’s neck; this thickness can indicate risk of some genetic abnormalities. A blood test may also be taken and used together with the ultrasound results.
The NIPT (commonly called the ‘Harmony Test’) is a blood test that checks DNA in a pregnant woman’s blood. It can also reveal the baby’s gender.
These tests aren’t covered by Medicare and you’ll need to pay costs out-of-pocket if you choose to have the tests. I paid about $A550 for the NIPT and received results in about 4 days.
These tests are done at a fertility clinic, pathology clinic or imaging centre, and you’ll need a referral from your doctor, obstetrician or midwife.
2. Structural morphology ultrasound or ‘20-week scan’
This is a detailed ultrasound scan which nearly all women have during their second trimester of pregnancy. Depending on the position of your baby, this scan can take about 1 hour.
The scan checks the baby’s physical development including the baby’s spine, brain, face, heart, stomach, bladder, kidneys, lungs, arms, legs, hands and feet. It is best for this scan to be performed at 20 weeks when the structures can be seen more easily and clearly on an ultrasound. It also checks the placenta, amniotic fluid and cervix.
This ultrasound is done at an imaging centre by a trained sonographer and you’ll need a referral from your doctor, obstetrician or midwife.
3. Whooping cough vaccination
From 20 weeks
Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is highly contagious and can be dangerous for babies and young children. Outbreaks of whooping cough occur every few years. The whooping cough vaccine is recommended to be given to pregnant women from 20 weeks of each pregnancy. It is covered by Medicare so is no cost to pregnant women. The vaccine will be recorded on the pregnancy ‘yellow card’.
The whooping cough vaccine is also recommended for partners and anyone who will be close to your baby (e.g. grandparents, carers) so your partner can also get the vaccination at the same time as you, however they will need to pay (about $A45). Many hospitals ask to see proof of whooping cough vaccination from your partner before they can enter the maternity ward so ask your doctor for an immunisation list or certificate.
4. Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT)
26 – 28 weeks
A glucose tolerance test (GTT) is used to diagnose gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman has high blood sugar levels due to pregnancy. This can usually develop between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy (Diabetes Australia).
Ask about preparing for the test, such as anything specific you need to eat a few days before the test. You will need to fast for at least 8-12 hours before the test so you may prefer to schedule the test early in the morning.
The GTT involves drinking a glucose drink and three blood tests. One blood sample will be taken before you drink the glucose drink, the second blood sample one hour after the drink, and the third blood sample 2 hours after the drink. So this test takes around 2 hours and you can’t eat during this period.
Depending on your results, your doctor may recommend further glucose tests before confirming whether you have gestational diabetes.
This test is usually done at a pathology clinic and you’ll need a referral from your doctor, obstetrician or midwife.
5. Vaginal swab for Group B Streptococcus
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a common bacteria that can be found in the vagina or rectum. If the bacteria is present during vaginal birth, it can infect a baby and cause a serious infection.
In Australia, all pregnant women are routinely tested for GBS with a vaginal swab between 35-37 weeks. Your doctor or midwife may give you a swab kit to take home and ask that you test yourself. The test includes a thin swab (like a long cotton tip) which needs to be inserted into the vagina. The swab should then be put into the collection tube provided and taken to a pathology company for testing.
If you test positive for GBS then you will be given intravenous (IV) antibiotics during your labour or when your water breaks to prevent your baby developing a serious infection.