Now that you’re expecting, get ready to give some blood and on a regular basis. If the thought of the prick of a needle makes you feel light-headed now, by the end of your pregnancy and most certainly by the end of labor and delivery you will breeze through it like a pregnancy warrior. Blood tests are a standard part of your prenatal care. During your first prenatal appointment, your doctor or midwife will order a plethora of blood tests. You will be asked to give blood samples to test for:
- Blood Type – Your doctor or midwife needs to know your blood type in case a transfusion is needed during pregnancy or labor. Blood types are negative or positive and distinguished by a letter – type O, type A, type B, and type AB.
- Rh Factor – This test identifies your Rh status which means determining whether you have a certain protein on the surface of your red blood cells. This matters when you are pregnant only if you’re negative and your partner is positive. If this is the case, there is a chance your child will have inherited a positive Rh factor, in which case your body may react to your baby’s blood as if it’s a foreign substance, and could potentially kill the baby. The condition is treated with a series of vaccinations given late in pregnancy or right after birth.
- Iron Level – A blood test will also let you know if you have too little hemoglobin in your red blood cells. This is a sign of anemia. If you’re anemic, your doctor or midwife may recommend that you take an iron supplement and they will advise that you eat more iron rich foods. Getting tested for anemia will help you and your doctor or midwife decide whether your level of fatigue is normal or if you have an iron deficiency since fatigue is a symptom of both anemia and pregnancy.
- German measles (Rubella) – Most pregnant women are immune to German measles (also known as Rubella) because they have either received a vaccination or had the disease as a child. If you do not have immunity, your doctor or midwife will advise you to avoid anyone who has the infection. If you develop German measles during your pregnancy, it could cause severe birth defects in your baby such as blindness, deafness, and heart problems. Nowadays, German measles are rare in the United States.
- Hepatitis B – This disease more often than not shows no signs or symptoms, so a blood test is often the only way to find out for sure if you have it. If you pass this liver disease to your baby during your pregnancy or after birth, it could cause serious liver damage. If your baby is at risk for catching the infection from you, injections of antibodies will be given to the baby right after birth.
- Syphilis – A chronic infectious sexually transmitted disease which can be transmitted to a fetus and cause congenital and developmental problems in your baby if left untreated during pregnancy.
You may be offered some optional tests to test for toxoplasmosis (an infection spread through cat feces), HIV, and hepatitis C. By testing for these early in pregnancy, your doctor or midwife can get the jump on any potential problems from the very beginning of your pregnancy.
Depending on your ethnic background and medical history, you may also be tested for three other conditions:
- Sickle cell anemia is an inherited chronic anemia caused by abnormally shaped red blood cells. Sickle cell anemia is common to populations of African descent. When carefully monitored, women with sickle cell anemia can give birth to healthy babies.
- Tay-Sachs disease is a genetic disorder carried by an estimated one in 30 Eastern European Jews; babies born with Tay-Sachs lack an essential enzyme which is needed to break down certain lipids, resulting in death early in childhood.
- Thalassemia is an inherited disorder of hemoglobin in red blood cells, characterized by anemia and found in individuals of Mediterranean, African-American or Southeast Asian ancestry.
Later in your pregnancy around weeks 16 to 18, your doctor or midwife will offer several other screening blood tests, such as the triple screen test, which looks for signs of any birth defects, and the glucose tolerance test, which monitors your blood sugar level and checks for gestational diabetes.