Just as the name suggests, the first trimester screen is a prenatal test that offers information about the health of the baby in the early stages.
Usually the screening is done between weeks 11 and 14. This means that it is performed before the majority of the other pregnancy tests.
Steps of the screen in the first trimester
First of all you will have a blood test that is meant to measure the substances that are specific for pregnant women. After this there will be an ultrasound done that is meant to show you the clear space that can be found at the back of the baby’s neck. This is also known as nuchal translucency.
After the first trimester screening, based on the results and your age your doctor will be able to tell you about the chances of the baby being affected by Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome. The effects of Down syndrome include mental retardation. The retardation is more severe in case of Edwards syndrome and in this case usually the babies die before the age of 1.
If the results of the first trimester screen show that the risks are low, you will have some reassurance. However if the risks are high, you can choose to have some other tests as well like amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. These are more invasive, but they can tell you for sure whether your baby is affected or not.
Why to have screening in the first trimester?
The main point of the screening is to determine the chances of your baby having Down syndrome or other kinds of chromosomal abnormalities. In the same time it can also detect some skeletal problems or heart defects. Nonetheless it can’t be used to determine neural tube defects.
The good thing about the first trimester screen is that since it is done earlier than the other tests, you will have the results at early stages of your pregnancy. You will have time to make decisions regarding other kinds of tests, treatment or the course of your pregnancy.
If the first trimester testing tells you that your baby is affected by some kind of problem, you will have time to prepare for caring for a child who has special needs. Keep in mind that the screening of this kind is optional. The tests won’t tell you for sure whether your baby is affected by given health conditions or not.
Before you have the first trimester screen first you should think about what the results will mean to you. Think about the anxiety that the test will cause and whether you will handle your pregnancy differently based on the results. Also think about the risks that the follow-up tests involve.
Risks of the testing in the first trimester
The good news about the screening is that it is non-invasive. This means that there are no risks associated to the baby or the mother.
The first trimester screen could be an important part of your prenatal care.