Pregnancy signs and STI screening
It can take up to two weeks from the due date of your last missed period before you have enough pregnancy hormones in your system for them to be detectable on a test. If you think that you might be pregnant but the test returns negative, try again in several days. However, it’s entirely possible that while you’re sitting at home reviewing your physical and emotional state for any early signs of pregnancy, the blastocyst (pre-embryo) has already made its journey down your fallopian tube to become implanted in your uterus, from where it will hope to see out the next eight months.
Once in the uterine lining, the blastocyst will divide in two, with one half becoming the embryo and, in a neat trick that has been perfected over countless generations of mammals, the other half becoming the placenta that helps nourish and protect your developing baby.
And it is easy to see why your child needs protecting at this time. The little pre-human is no longer than one millimetre long and it would be hard to distinguish it from a grain of sand. But it will not stay this way for long. The amniotic sac is forming around the child, as is the yolk sac, while the embryo is developing into three separate parts:
- The endoderm – this inner layer that will soon become the digestive system, the liver and the lungs
- The mesoderm – this mid-layer which will develop into the muscles, sexual organs, heart, kidneys and bones
- The ectoderm – this outer layer will develop into the nervous system, skin, eyes and hair
As for possible signs of pregnancy, there are many of them, but until you take a test that gives you a positive reading it is not possible to be certain. Here are some signs anyway (just don’t read too much into them at this stage):
- Transitory period-like cramps
- Unusually heightened sense of smell
- Strange taste in your mouth
- Unusual food cravings and food aversions
- Heavy feeling in the lower abdomen
- Frequent need to urinate
STIs before and during pregnancy
It is always advisable to think about the possibility you might be carrying a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) at the earliest possible stage in your pregnancy, or indeed during your pre-pregnancy planning.
If you think there is a possibility, however remote, that you or your partner might have contracted an STI, you should consult your GP, midwife, nearest sexual health clinic, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic as a matter of urgency.
Nowadays, there is an acceptance of the fact that STIs are a reality of sexual relationships. In fact, according to sexual health charity FPA, each year in the UK around 400,000 adults will be diagnosed with some type of STI.
Unfortunately, STIs bring many potential health risks and these are only exacerbated in the event of pregnancy. Not only can some STIs be a factor in the development of cervical and uterine cancers, PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), and infertility, they can also cause a range of pregnancy related problems, from premature birth and low birth weight babies to the following:
- Neonatal sepsis
- Vision impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Neurological damage
Unfortunately, some STIs such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia can be asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) but may actually be life-threatening to newborns and their fragile immune systems, while other symptoms – for example, learning difficulties or development delays – may not be identifiable until later in the baby’s life. This makes it imperative to get tested if there is any chance you could have contracted an STI.
Nip it in the bud
Fortunately, with enough awareness and proper screening, at both the early and later stages of pregnancy, it is possible to greatly reduce the risk of an STI causing harm to your baby.
Bacterial STIs such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis and syphilis can all be cured through antibiotics, while virally transmitted STIs such as HIV and herpes can be treated and managed in such a way as to minimise harm to both you and your baby.
For example, women with vaginal herpes can reduce the risk of passing the virus on to their child by opting for a Caesarean Section while a doctor may decide to prescribe a course of antiviral medication.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, or believe you may have conceived, above all make it a priority to see a doctor so that you a screening appointment can be arranged, and ensure your partner does the same. There should be no shame in this: no sexually active person is immune from the risk of STIs – but your baby could suffer if an infection goes untreated.