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Prenatal Testing: What Exams to Get During Your Second Trimester?

Pregnancy & Postpartum

It's the second trimester, and you've known you are pregnant for some time now. You may have told friends and family that you and your partner are expecting. But what can you expect yourself? What tests will you get during the fourth, fifth and sixth months of pregnancy?

While the tests may get a bit more complicated, it is only because your baby is getting more complex. He or she is growing steadily, forming features that are some combination of you and your mate. While you may have gotten an initial ultrasound during the first trimester to confirm your baby's basic health, it is during the second trimester that an ultrasound may confirm whether your baby is a boy or a girl.

Also, this ultrasound will probably be the first in which you can see your baby's features in profile. You may ask to have a copy of the ultrasound image to keep, since this is the first time you will ever see your little boy or girl's face.

During the second trimester, you will probably be encouraged to take a so-called triple test, a blood test that checks three hormone and protein levels in your blood. It is quick and relatively painless, involving nothing more than giving a vial of blood. A similar exam called the quad test may also be performed at that time.

An important part of the triple test is the alpha-fetoprotein screening (MSAFP) test. The MSAFP, which is usually performed between weeks 15 and 20, checks the level of alpha-fetoprotein in your bloodstream. Alpha-fetoprotein is a key indicator of fetal health. All women are typically given this test; it is not just for at-risk pregnancies.

If your triple test results come back abnormal, you will be offered an amniocentesis to provide more definitive results. Both tests are typically taken between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy. Amniocenteses involve taking a sample of amniotic fluid, which is tested for abnormalities.

Because there is a very slight chance—about 1 in every 200 to 400—of complications (including miscarriage) stemming from amniocentesis, you'll want to take time making the decision of whether to obtain one. Even if you are in the higher risk category, you do not have to get an amniocentesis; the decision is yours. Do as much research as you can, and be sure to talk about any concerns you may have with your health care provider and your partner.

Remember, although there is a slight risk of complications with some of these tests, they are routinely performed to help ensure good health for you and your baby. Talk to your health care provider to learn more details about the risks and benefits of these prenatal exams.

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