The Power of Information During Pregnancy
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Pregnancy is a wonderful time, filled with hope, expectancy and excitement. It can also be a time of concern—about the pregnancy, about the baby, and about the future.
There are many healthcare questions and decisions to be made during pregnancy. Which doctor is right for me? Where should I plan on delivering? What should I eat? How do I know everything is OK with the baby?
The journey towards becoming a parent is full of joy and worries. One of the best ways to overcome the worries is to be as informed as possible. Information empowers you and helps you to make the best decisions possible, the ones that are right for you and your family.
During a pregnancy, there can be many concerns about the health of the baby. Fortunately, with the technological advances of today, so much can be known about how the pregnancy is progressing. For instance, with ultrasound, the baby, amniotic sac (the bag of fluid where the baby grows), and placenta (the organ that delivers nourishment and oxygen to the baby) can be seen. Ultrasound can also help determine how far you are in the pregnancy.1
There are also blood tests that can be used to evaluate the health of the mother. These tests are usually conducted during the first trimester, and include tests to determine the mother’s blood type, Rh factor (a type of protein on blood cells), iron deficiency, immunity to rubella (German measles), and HIV status.
Other blood tests can be done to evaluate the health of the baby, such as the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test. AFP is produced by the fetus and mixes with the mother's blood, and can be evaluated with a simple blood sample from the mother. This blood test is a screening test (meaning that a “positive” result shows that there is a chance of a problem) given to pregnant women during the second trimester of pregnancy. A high level of AFP can be an indication of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida, a condition where the spinal column does not close all the way.2 However, high levels of AFP can also mean that the pregnancy is further along than what was originally thought. A high AFP could also mean the mother is carrying twins. A low level of AFP can sometimes indicate the presence of a genetic disorder in the baby.3
Another type of blood test that has become available in the last few years is noninvasive, prenatal DNA testing of the baby. This type of test only requires a blood sample from the mother, and can reveal if the baby has certain chromosomal problems or disorders. One of the leading tests on the market is the MaterniT21® PLUS test,4 which can determine if the baby has an extra chromosome, a condition called trisomy, which means 3 copies of a chromosome.
The most common trisomy condition is trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), followed by trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome). The MaterniT21® PLUS prenatal test can also determine if other less common trisomies are present, such as trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome). Other rarer chromosomal disorders can also be detected. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about this test, particularly if you are over 35, have a family history of chromosomal abnormalities, or if your AFP test result suggested the presence of a possible disorder. The MaterniT21® PLUS test can be conducted as early as the 10th week of your pregnancy.
The power of information during your pregnancy is vital to protecting and understanding your health and the health of the baby. Information allows you to be prepared for the future, and to make the best healthcare decisions for you and your family.
Ashley Andrews is a San Diego-based freelance writer who blogs on a wide range of green living, business, health and technology topics.