Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Reasons for Prenatal Testing

Many prenatal tests are performed routinely in all pregnant women. Blood tests, urine tests, and ultrasounds pose little or no risk to the mother or baby. These tests can provide valuable information to help your doctor care for you and your developing baby. Other tests come with significant risks. Therefore, these tests are only considered for women with high risk pregnancies.

Some maternal factors that can make a pregnancy high risk include:

  • Increased age (35 or older)
  • Being an adolescent
  • Previous birth of a premature baby
  • Previous birth of a baby with a birth defect
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • A serious medical problem, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, moderate to severe asthma, or a seizure disorder
  • Ethnic background in which genetic disorders are common (in the mother or the father)
  • Family history of intellectual disability (in the mother or the father)

Your doctor may recommend more invasive tests if your pregnancy is high risk, but the decision to have a test is yours. Understanding each test and what it measures, how reliable it is, and the risk associated with the test will help you make your decision. It is important to discuss your options with your doctor, especially if the test indicates there may be a problem.

Couples may choose to have certain prenatal tests for different reasons, including to:

  • Allow for possible medical interventions that may be needed
  • Begin planning for a child with special needs
  • Identify support groups and resources
  • Make a decision about whether to continue the pregnancy

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Diagnosing birth defects [pamphlet]. April 2005; AP164.

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice bulletin: invasive prenatal testing for aneuploidy. ACOG. December 2007; No. 88.

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice bulletin: screening for fetal chromosomal abnormalities. ACOG. January 2007; No. 77.

Chorionic villus sampling: CVS. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: Updated September 2, 2016. Accessed December 27, 2016.

Prenatal tests. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Updated June 2013. Accessed December 27, 2016.

Routine prenatal care. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated December 5, 2016. Accessed December 27, 2016.

Last reviewed December 2016 by Andrea Chisholm, MD  Last Updated: 5/20/2015