They may seem never-ending, but health checks are a vital part of your antenatal care. Find out what they do and what you should expect for each one
The Rhesus Factor test
One of the first tests you’ll have during early pregnancy is to find out whether you and your baby have different blood types.
‘A blood test at your first antenatal appointment will determine your rhesus status (Rh-positive or Rh-negative),’ says Sue Jacob, from the Royal College of Midwives.
‘If your rhesus status is different to your baby and your blood mixes during birth, your body produces antibodies to protect itself,’ says Sue. ‘These immune proteins could affect the health of any future babies, potentially causing jaundice and anaemia.’
Once rhesus factor has been picked up, you will receive injections of Anti-D at 28 and 34 weeks. It’s an antibody that prevents your body reacting to your baby’s blood.
Infectious disease test
‘At around 10-12 weeks, you’ll be offered blood tests for hepatitis, HIV, rubella and syphilis,’ says Joanne Harcombe, from the UK National Screening Committee.
These diseases are rare, but it’s best to be tested as they can be passed onto your baby and cause serious illnesses.
Wear clothes that won’t constrict your arm during your blood test, as it will make the process easier for you and your midwife.
You’ll be asked to provide a urine sample at each appointment to monitor glucose levels.
Pregnancy hormones can affect how well your body processes glucose. ‘High levels can be a sign of gestational diabetes, so you may need further tests to check your tolerance to glucose,’ says Sue.
Keep your blood-sugar levels stable to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes. ‘Sweets, chocolate, and white bread and pasta will give you a sugar spike so avoid these,’ says nutritionist Carina Norris.
A blood test at your first antenatal appointment, and again at 32 weeks, can tell you if your haemoglobin levels are low.
‘Low haemoglobin levels could put you at risk of anaemia, leaving you tired and faint,’ says Sue. ‘Haemoglobin is also needed to transport oxygen and nutrients to your baby during pregnancy, so your GP will prescribe iron supplements if you’re lacking.’
You can also increase iron levels through your diet. ‘Lean red meat and green leafy veg are rich in iron,’ says Carina. Fortified breakfast cereals are also a good source.
Blood disorder test
Many people don’t know they carry an inherited disorder, so you’ll be tested at 10 weeks to check for thalassemia and sickle cell.
Thalassemia and sickle cell are inherited blood cell disorders that can cause anaemia. Some NHS trusts don’t automatically test for sickle cell, and it will depend on whether you live in a high prevalence area, your ethnic background or if you’re in a high-risk group.
‘You’ll receive a Family Origin Questionnaire to find out where your family and your baby’s father come from,’ says Joanne. This will help your midwife decide if you need a test.
Group B Strep test
This test isn’t routinely offered and there’s no national screening program. ‘Group B Strep is a bacteria that’s present in the digestive system and possibly vagina of some women,’ says Sue.
Group B Strep is rare but, if it is passed on to your baby during the birth, it can cause a very serious infection.
If your hospital can’t screen you, you can order a home-testing kit for £30-32 online. You take swabs between 35-37 weeks and, if positive, you’ll be given antibiotics when you go into labour.