During your pregnancy you will be offered some screening tests to determine whether you or your baby have any health conditions that may require treatment. The results will help you and your maternity team make choices regarding your care. These tests are free by the NHS
What are screening tests?
Tests are carried out to find out what the chances are of you or your baby developing a certain health condition.
Because the results determine the “chance” of a health condition occurring, it does not mean that a baby definitely does or definitely doesn’t have that condition.
Watch this video on antenatal screening:
What do screening tests involve?
You will be offered either ultrasound scans or blood tests, or a combination of both.
Blood tests can detect infections such as HIV, hepatitis B or syphilis. They will also tell you whether you have a higher chance of developing sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia.
Ultrasound scans may detect conditions such as spina bifida.
Blood tests combined with scans will determine what chance the baby has of having Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome.
Some of the screening tests will also include:
- blood tests for infectious diseases
- eye screening if you have pre-existing diabetes (not gestational diabetes)
Some screening tests will also be offered to your baby after they’re born:
- newborn physical examination
- newborn hearing screening
- newborn blood spot screening
By detecting certain conditions, treatment can then be given to help you and your baby.
Do I have to have screening?
No – it’s entirely your decision that only you can make.
Speak to your midwife or doctor to decide what is right for you as some tests can result in having to make difficult decisions about whether to have a further diagnostic test or not.
A diagnostic test, such as amniocentesis, carries a chance of miscarriage. Amniocentesis is a test you may be offered during pregnancy to check if your baby has a genetic or chromosomal condition, such as Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome. It involves removing and testing a small sample of cells from amniotic fluid, the fluid that surrounds the unborn baby in the womb (uterus). This test is offered when the antenatal screening test shows there is a higher chance of your baby having these conditions.
Amniocentesis tells you for certain whether your baby has the condition. There’s no cure for most of the conditions amniocentesis finds, so you’ll need to consider your options carefully. You may choose to continue with your pregnancy, while gathering information about the condition so you’re fully prepared.
Are there any risks?
Screening tests cannot harm you or your baby although consideration needs to be given regarding a secondary diagnostic test such as amniocentesis, as that carries a chance of miscarriage.
When will I be offered screening?
The screening tests for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis as well as sickle cell and thalassaemia are usually offered before 10 weeks of pregnancy and shouldn’t be delayed until the first scan appointment.
This is so you can be offered specialist treatment to reduce the chance of your baby getting infected.
You’ll be offered screening for Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome and Patau’s syndrome around the time of your first scan.
Your entire maternity team will respect your privacy and keep all information about you secure as this is a legal requirement. Records are therefore only shared with staff who need to see them.