Tests in pregnancy

Could your unborn baby be affected by an illness you’re carrying? There are tests to ease your health worries.

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You’ll most likely have a safe, uncomplicated pregnancy, but your unborn baby could be harmed by chlamydia, chickenpox, Group B streptococcus, diabetes, toxoplasmosis and slapped cheek disease.

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We look at how to know if you’re at risk, what tests you can have, and what to expect next.

Test for chlamydia

What’s the risk?

This sexually transmitted infection often has no symptoms, but if untreated can increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. The infection can also be transmitted to your unborn baby and may cause miscarriage, premature birth or eye and lung infections following the birth.

Who needs the test?

Talk to your midwife or GP about having a test if you experience:

  • Frequent lower abdominal pain
  • Pain deep inside during or after sex
  • Burning when passing urine
  • Discoloured, offensive-smelling vaginal discharge
  • If your partner has had chlamydia

What does the test involve?

A swab, a bit like a cotton bud, is dipped into your vagina. Results will take a few days.

What happens then?

If chlamydia is detected, it can be treated easily with a course of antibiotics.

“I took the test”

“There was nothing to the test. Rob and I both took a course of antibiotics and it cleared up in no time,” says Sandra, 22, 8 months pregnant.

Test for chickenpox

What’s the risk?

If you catch chickenpox before you’re 20 weeks pregnant pregnant, it can affect your unborn baby. The highest risk is when you’re between 13 weeks and 20 weeks, when there’s a one in 50 chance of your baby developing an abnormality.

If you develop chickenpox after 36 weeks, medication will be needed to reduce the symptoms as your baby could be born with chickenpox, making him sick and he may need antiviral drugs to reduce the risk of complications.

Who needs the test?

If you’ve had chickenpox before, you’re immune to it, and your baby will be safe. So if you’re not sure whether you’ve had it, you should be tested.

What does the test involve?

Your midwife or GP will take a blood sample and you’ll get the results in a few days.

What happens then?

If the test shows you’ve had chickenpox in the past, no further action is needed. If you discover you’re not immune, avoid contact with anyone who may be infected. If you are exposed to chickenpox you can be offered an injection, to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

“I took the test”

“I panicked when Julianne got chickenpox while I was pregnant with Annie. I phoned my midwife, as I couldn’t remember if I’d had it myself, and she did a blood test that day which came back showing I was immune,” says Gemma, 28, mum to Julianne, 5, and Annie, 6 weeks.

Test for Group B streptococcus

What’s the risk?

Around one in three people carries Group B strep. It only becomes a problem if it causes a vaginal infection, as it can be transferred to your baby during or following birth. Up to 700 babies a year develop Group B strep infection and it can be life-threatening.

If you’ve had a previous baby affected by Group B strep tell your midwife as you’ll be advised to have intravenous antibiotics.

Who needs the test?

Look out for symptoms of a vaginal infection, such as:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Discoloured, itchy or offensive-smelling discharge

There could be no symptoms at all, so you may want to have the test to be on the safe side.

What does the test involve?

A swab is taken from your vagina and/or bottom.

The charity Group B Strep Support recommends a more sensitive test, which isn’t available from most NHS hospitals, so you’d have to pay to have it done privately. Details can be found at Group B Strep Support.

What happens then?

If you have Group B strep, you’ll have intravenous antibiotics once labour begins, ideally starting at least four hours before your baby is born, to reduce the risk of Group B strep transferring to your baby.

Antibiotics are also recommended if:

  • You have a fever in labour
  • You have prolonged rupture of membranes
  • You have a premature labour
  • Group B strep is discovered in a urine test

“I took the test”

“I was really worried when I found out I had group B strep. But my midwife explained many women carry the bacteria. Peter was fine when he was born, even though I only managed to have the antibiotics an hour before the birth as he arrived so quickly!” says Carol, 37, mum to Ruth, 4, and Peter, 5 weeks

Test for diabetes

What’s the risk?

Diabetes can develop at any time, including during pregnancy when it’s referred to as ‘gestational diabetes’.

If you have poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes you’re at higher risk of having a baby with congenital abnormalities, such as heart defects. But don’t panic: most women with gestational diabetes go on to have a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Who needs the test?

You should ask your midwife or GP for a test if you:

  • Have a history of gestational diabetes
  • Are overweight
  • Have a close family history of diabetes
  • Have previously had a baby weighing more than 4.5kg (9lb 14oz)
  • A previous unexplained stillbirth
  • You belong to a high-risk ethnic group, such as Asian or Afro-Caribbean

What does the test involve?

You fast overnight, then have a blood test, followed by a glucose drink, and then another blood test. Results can be back in a matter of hours.

What happens then?

If you have diabetes, you may be able to control it with diet and exercise. You may need prescribed injections of insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a normal limit.

“I took the test”

“My sister has diabetes, so I wasn’t surprised to get it. All the hospital appointments were a bit of a pain, but a small price to pay for a healthy baby,” says Mara, 33, mum to Faiza, 8 months.

Test for toxoplasmosis

What’s the risk?

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite found in raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats’ milk, cat faeces or soil fouled by cats.

If you have it in pregnancy, there’s a 40% chance your baby will be affected.

Toxoplasmosis can cause:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Damage your baby’s eyes, brain or other organs

Who needs the test?

Up to 50% of us get toxoplasmosis at some point in our lives. Healthy people often won’t display symptoms – but once you’ve had it, you’re usually immune.

Talk to your GP about having a test if you:

  • Have pets
  • Had undercooked meat or unpasteurised goats milk and develop flu-like symptoms

What does the test involve?

It’s a simple blood test. Results come in around a week.

What happens then?

Antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce the likelihood of passing it on to your baby.

“I took the test”

“I own three cats, so I asked my GP for the blood test before I even got pregnant. It showed I was immune, but having the test made me feel better as I knew my baby wasn’t at risk,” says Leah, 34, mum to Frank, 5 months

Test for slapped cheek disease

What’s the risk?

Slapped cheek disease is also called ‘fifth disease’ or ‘Parvovirus B19’. It’s a common childhood virus often affecting children at nursery. It’s thought around 60% of us adults are immune, having had it as children.

If you develop Parvovirus B19 in pregnancy, you’ll most likely still have a healthy baby. However, if you contract it between 9-20 weeks of pregnancy, there’s a 15% risk of miscarriage and 0.6% chance of your baby developing foetal hydrops, which can lead to stillbirth.

Who needs the test?

If you suspect you or your children have it, contact your midwife or GP.

For you as an adult, symptoms include:

  • Rash
  • High temperature
  • Possible joint pain

What does the test involve?

It’s just a simple blood test.

What happens then?

If you have it, you’ll be offered scans and monitored to check on any effects to your baby.

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“I took the test”

“I was around 20 weeks pregnant when I felt off-colour and had achy joints. The next day I had a red rash all over. Parvovirus was confirmed and the consultant advised weekly scans to check my baby. Thankfully I gave birth at 41 weeks to a healthy baby girl,” says Jo, 37, mum to Daisy, 4.

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