Screenings during pregnancy
All pregnant women in Finland have the right to participate in screening tests during pregnancy, such as ultrasound examinations and the maternal serum screening test. The screening tests help to find possible foetal developmental disorders or structural abnormalities at a very early stage. The screening tests are free of charge and voluntary. You will be directed to them by the maternity clinic.
The Finnish national screening programme includes the following examinations during pregnancy:
- The general ultrasound scan in early pregnancy is performed between weeks 10 and 13 of pregnancy.
- The early pregnancy combined screening covers the maternal serum screening, which is the mother's blood test, between weeks 9 and 11 of pregnancy and measuring the amount of fluid behind the baby’s neck in connection with the general ultrasound examination between weeks 11 and 13 of pregnancy. If the combined screening cannot be done, the examination can be carried out with the help of the second-trimester maternal serum screening between weeks 15 and 16 of pregnancy.
- The structural ultrasound examination is performed between weeks 18 and 21 of pregnancy or after week 24 of pregnancy.
Municipalities are responsible for organising the screening during pregnancy. The screening tests are free of charge and voluntary. All pregnant women have the right to participate in them.
The purpose of the general examination in early pregnancy is to ensure that the baby is alive, to verify the duration of the pregnancy and to determine the due date and the number of babies.
The purpose of the study is not to look for abnormalities in the baby. However, clear structural abnormalities may already be visible in this examination.
The purpose of the early pregnancy combined screening or second-trimester blood test is to examine whether the baby has an increased risk of chromosomal abnormality. If the risk is increased, the mother is offered the opportunity to have a chromosome analysis from the placenta or an amniotic fluid sample. It is done to ensure that the baby’s chromosomes are normal. The most common chromosome abnormality is Down's syndrome.
The purpose of the structural ultrasound is to find out whether the baby has severe structural abnormalities. In the examination, the baby’s organs are scanned systematically with an ultrasound. If any abnormalities are found, a new examination of the baby and the necessary follow-up measures will be performed on a case-by-case basis. The examination usually also reveals the sex of the baby.
Contact the maternity clinic when your pregnancy has lasted 6-8 weeks at the latest. On your first visit to the maternity clinic, you will receive information about the screening tests during pregnancy. The maternity clinic will also provide instructions on how to participate in the screening tests. The clinic will ensure that the tests are carried out at the right time.
You can choose yourself which screening tests you will participate in during your pregnancy. For example, you may decide that you do not want to know about possible chromosome abnormalities in the baby, even if you participate in the other examinations. Not having the screening tests does not in any way affect the monitoring of your pregnancy, the childbirth or the treatment of the child that is born.
The screening tests carried out during pregnancy help to find the baby’s developmental disorders or structural abnormalities at the earliest possible stage. Especially in pregnancies without symptoms, it is very difficult to detect abnormalities without screening tests.
The knowledge about abnormalities in the baby helps in the monitoring of the pregnancy and the planning of the childbirth. Usually, it is also helpful in the planning of the care of the newborn baby.
If the foetus is diagnosed with a serious illness or disability, you may also want to consider terminating your pregnancy.
More than 80 per cent of chromosome abnormalities are found in the early pregnancy combined screening. About 75 per cent of significant structural abnormalities are detected in the structural ultrasound examination.
The older the mother, the greater the risks related to the baby’s health.