Why Fetal Testing is Important
Dr. Garofalo uses a variety of tests to check the health of your fetus. While these tests usually assure you that all is going well, they may indicate that you or your baby will require special care. Some of these tests can be done at home. For example, Dr. Garofalo may ask you to conduct “kick counts” to detect changes in fetal movement. Other tests may include some of the following.
Ultrasound uses sound waves to create picture of the uterus and fetus. A device called a transducer is put against the abdomen or placed in the vagina. For an abdominal ultrasound, a gel is spread on the abdomen to improve contact between the transducer and your skin. The pictures appear on a screen that looks like a TV.
Ultrasound can be used to provide information about the following:
- The number of fetuses
- The position of the fetus
- The gender of the fetus
- Fetal movement, breathing and heartbeat
- The approximate age of the fetus
- Growth of the fetus
- Some birth defects
- Location of the placenta
- Length of the cervix
- The amount of blood flowing through the umbilical cord
- The reason for bleeding or pelvic pain
Fetal Heart monitoring
Fetal heart monitoring is an important part of evaluating fetal health, since the heart rate can provide information about a baby’s well-being. This information is particularly crucial as labor approaches. To listen to your baby’s heartbeat, Dr. Garofalo may use a specialized ultrasound device called a Doppler ultrasound, which converts fetal heartbeat sound waves into audible signals. A “nonstress test” can be done to see how the baby’s heartbeat changes when you feel the baby move.
A biophysical profile is a combination of evaluations to determine heart rate (via the nonstress test), breathing movements, body movements, muscle tone, and amniotic fluid level. Regular and Doppler ultrasound is used for these evaluations. Each category is rated 0 or 2; a score of 8 or 10 is normal. None of these evaluations are harmful to your baby.
Although almost every child in the United States is born healthy, there is a small chance of your baby being born with one or more birth defects. Some birth defects are passed from parent to child and some result from exposure to harmful things during pregnancy. In some cases, birth defects can be detected by testing during pregnancy. Testing and counseling may help you make decisions and consider your options.
Undergoing genetic testing is a personal choice. However, you should be aware that several factors increase the chances of your baby being born with a birth defect. Some of those factors include:
- A family history of heart defects, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or other genetic disorders
- A personal history of pregnancy complications such as miscarriage or stillbirth
- If you are 35 years of age or older
- If your partner is 50 years of age or older
If factors such as these raise concerns about potential birth defects, the following diagnostic tests are available.
A detailed ultrasound exam called a nuchal translucency (NT) scan shows the amount of fluid behind your baby’s neck. A high amount of fluid around the neck can indicate that your baby will be born with Down syndrome, a condition that is associated with mild to severe mental disability and impaired physical growth. This scan is often carried out at 11–13 weeks of pregnancy.
Amniocentesis is a procedure that allows testing for Down syndrome and various other birth defects that can affect the spine or skull. For this procedure, a thin needle is used to take a small amount of amniotic fluid from your uterus. This sample is sent to a lab where it is grown in a culture and studied under a microscope. This can take up to three weeks. Other tests can be conducted if you are at risk of a certain disorder such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy. Amniocentesis is generally performed at 15-20 weeks of pregnancy.
CVS – Chrorionic Villas Sampling
Chorionic villus sampling, or CVS, can detect some of the same birth defects that amniocentesis can. With this procedure, a small sample of cells is taken from your placenta and sent to a lab, where it is grown in a culture and studied under a microscope. CVS can be performed as early as 10-12 weeks of pregnancy.
AFP – Alphfetoprotein Testing
AFP involves taking a sample of your blood to check the levels of alphfetoprotein, or AFP, which is a protein secreted by your baby’s liver. AFP testing can help detect spinal and skull issues, as well as other complications.
While genetic testing can provide you with information, all genetic tests have drawbacks. Accuracy is not guaranteed, and amniocentesis and CVS carry a slight risk of miscarriage. Be sure to discuss your options for testing and counseling with Dr. Garofalo.