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Pregnant For The First Time: Why Are There So Many Lab Tests?

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If you have finally gotten the positive home pregnancy test, you're excited and nervous about a new experience. Part of prenatal care mean seeing your doctor regularly, but it also means getting plenty of blood and urine tests done at the lab. If you've been perfectly healthy for the majority of your life, you might wonder why all of these are needed and what they actually test for. These are the most common lab tests you'll receive during pregnancy and how they help you stay healthy during this time of change.

Confirmation Blood Test

Sometimes, if your positive pregnancy test was done at home, the doctor will order a pregnancy blood test, just to make sure there wasn't a false positive. This blood tests looks at the HCG levels in your body, which increase exponentially during the first trimester of pregnancy. The results can also indicate (in some women) if there has been an early miscarriage since the positive home pregnancy test-- sometimes, levels are not high enough as would be expected for the amount of weeks pregnant you are. 

Urine Culture

Some physicians will also order a basic urine culture to test for any urinary tract infections. Your immune system goes through some drastic changes during pregnancy, and if urinary tract infections are not treated early, they can be more difficult to cure later on and can cause complications, such as pre-term labor. 

Iron Levels

Pregnant women need significantly more iron during fetal development, because the body is producing and sustaining more blood than it was before. In fact, women should double their iron intake through vitamins and diet during pregnancy, as iron-deficiency anemia can lead to fatigue and low oxygenation in the blood, which means that both you and baby are not operating at full capacity. If you have a history of anemia, your doctor may check your iron levels frequently throughout pregnancy to make sure your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels are normal. 

Rh Factor

Have you ever wondered why some blood types are "positive", while others are "negative"? Most of the time, it doesn't make much difference, unless you need a blood transfusion. However, checking your blood type during pregnancy can actually save your baby's life at birth. The Rh factor is a protein found in red blood cells-- some people have it and some people don't. If you don't have the Rh factor (you have "negative" blood type), but your baby does, your body can produce antibodies against the baby's blood which can lead to death during childbirth due to sudden anemia. This can be prevented with regular care if your blood type (and ideally the blood type of the baby's father) is known beforehand. 

Blood Glucose

Some women have trouble regulating their blood sugar during pregnancy-- even if they are perfectly fine beforehand. This condition is known as gestational diabetes. The lab will test your blood for glucose levels after you drink a sugary beverage. If your body is able to regulate blood sugar, there is no problem. But, if you do have gestational diabetes, you will need to make some dietary changes so your baby is protected from having insulin dependence after birth. Gestational diabetes also increases the chances that your baby will born larger, which increases the risk of c-section or vaginal delivery complications. 

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Some sexually transmitted diseases put a fetus at risk, so doctors test all patients for them, even if you have a very low chance of having an STD. HIV, Hepatitis B and syphilis will all affect the future health of the child. Also, your doctor will likely perform a pap smear to check for cervical cancer and chlamydia. 

These are just the basic test for pregnant women. If you have more health complications, you could see even more test requests sent to the lab. Talk to your local lab, like SmartCare Health and Diagnostics, or your doctor about any questions, or if you are curious about test results.