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antenatal scans, antenatal scans in pregnancy, pregnancy care

A Quick Guide to Routine Antenatal Scans Done During Pregnancy [2020]

Pregnancy is notoriously associated with dramatic physiological changes!  As your hormones steadily shift during this phase, you may realise that your weight, mood, eating habits, and even sleeping patterns seem to be going haywire. Understandably, many of these changes can be somewhat uncomfortable. Some of these changes are, however, both normal and essential for the development and health of your unborn child.

Given that every woman’s pregnancy experience is unique, the changes you experience during pregnancy can range from mild to severe and even life-threatening illnesses. Therefore, getting early and regular prenatal care becomes essential to determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are normal or not.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all pregnant women should get at least four antenatal care (ANC) assessments done by a qualified doctor or skilled attendant. But the proportion of women receiving the minimum of four antenatal assessments in India has only modestly increased from 37% to 51.2% between 2006-2016.

John Hopkins Medicine underlines that most pregnancies may progress without any complications. However, approximately 8 per cent of all pregnancies can involve some complications which, if left untreated, can harm the mother or the baby. You must, therefore, prioritise your routine antenatal scans.

Prenatal care may involve blood tests, imaging tests, and ultrasound exams, among others. These methods can help monitor your baby’s development in the womb as well as identify any ongoing health problems or existing health risks that you may have.

This article discusses some of the routine antenatal scans done during pregnancy.

Routine Antenatal Scans in Pregnancy:

You can schedule your first antenatal visit with your doctor as soon as your pregnancy has been confirmed. Your first appointment is likely to take place between eight and twelve weeks of your pregnancy. Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor may suggest several tests to check if both you and your baby are in good health.

Some of these tests will be a part of your routine prenatal checkups. Other tests may be voluntary and only done if your doctor thinks it may be appropriate for you to get tested. The following are the routine antenatal scans that you may experience during pregnancy:

1. Height, Weight and Blood Pressure

During your first booking appointment, your doctor will note down your height and weight measurements to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). Obesity can put you at risk for complications such as preeclampsia, blood pressure, and blood clotting. Thus, if you are overweight, your doctor may advise you to lose some weight.

Additionally, your doctor will check your blood pressure on every visit. Your blood pressure can be comparatively lower in the middle of your pregnancy. But, if your blood pressure is high later in pregnancy, it could be a sign of pregnancy-induced hypertension.

2. Blood Tests

On your first prenatal visit, you may have to give a blood sample. This blood sample helps determine your blood group, your rhesus status, and your HCG levels. Blood tests also check your immunity to certain diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, and syphilis (unless you have specifically requested not to be tested for these diseases).

Apart from this, your blood sample may also be evaluated for conditions such as:

  • Thalassemia
  • Sickle cell anaemia
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Tay-Sachs
  • Other genetic conditions

3. Urine Tests and Pap Smear

A urinalysis helps your doctor check for potentially dangerous complications associated with pregnancy. These include urinary tract infection, preeclampsia or high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. If your doctor suspects a serious problem, he or she may send your urine sample to a lab for more in-depth testing.

A pap smear is a routine part of your first-trimester antenatal screening and will check for abnormal cervical cells. If any abnormality is suspected, your doctor may perform a second test called colposcopy.

4. Ultrasound Exams

Your doctor may perform ultrasound exams at any point during your pregnancy. If you have a healthy pregnancy, however, you may only need to get two antenatal ultrasound scans done.

Your first ultrasound exam is likely to be scheduled when you around 11 to 14 weeks into your pregnancy. During this first antenatal scan, your doctor will give you the estimated date of delivery and will also identify and rule out any significant abnormalities.

A detailed ultrasound will be done again in the second trimester to look at the anatomy of the whole fetus. This antenatal growth scan is usually done around 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

5. Nuchal Translucency Ultrasound

The Nuchal Translucency (NT) Ultrasound is an optional antenatal scan in pregnancy. This specialised ultrasound serves the purpose of screening for chromosomal abnormalities such as open neural tube defect, Down Syndrome and Trisomy 18.

The scan may be done sometime between 11 and 14 weeks of your pregnancy and is often combined with two other tests:

  • Noninvasive prenatal Test (NIPT)
  • Quad screen (also called Maternal Serum Screen, multiple marker screen, AFP, triple test or triple screen).

If any of these antenatal anomaly scans indicate that your baby is at a higher risk for certain congenital conditions, your doctor may recommend more invasive diagnostic tests such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis.

6. Glucose Screening 

A glucose screening is done at approximately 26 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. This test determines your risk of gestational diabetes. Based on the results, your doctor may also recommend a glucose tolerance test.

7. Group B Streptococcus

This test, done around 36 to 37 weeks of pregnancy, checks for bacteria that can cause pneumonia or other serious infections in your newborn. A swab will be used to take cells from your vagina and rectum for testing purposes.

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Conclusion

Routine antenatal scanning can ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy as well as a healthy baby. All mothers-to-be are encouraged to have these scans done as recommended by your doctor from time to time.

You can make an appointment with your doctors for your care during pregnancy. Ensure that you are fully informed about all the necessary tests and treatments. Discuss all your concerns with your medical professional openly to receive the best care possible.

Author: Dr Astha Dayal
Dr. Astha Dayal is an esteemed obstetrician and gynaecologist in Gurgaon. She cleared her MRCOG certification in London, UK, and is a member of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India. She has over 16 years of experience in the medical and surgical management of women’s health with an emphasis on high-risk pregnancies as well as advanced laparoscopy.
 
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