You know the drill. You go into your obstetrician or midwife’s office and you almost always have to pee in a little cup for them. Some offices want a sample each time you come in and others less often, but why so much interest in your urine? Because all those little samples of pee are used to screen for several potentially serious problems.
There is a lot of information in that little cup of pee. Urine can tell your healthcare provider many things about your health and how well your pregnancy is going. The sample is sometimes sent out to a lab for testing and is sometimes tested in your health provider’s office.
A urine test is often performed to check for bladder or kidney infections (urinary tract infections). This is done by looking for bacteria and red or white blood cells in your urine sample.
But two of the most important reasons to check your urine are as part of screening for pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. High protein levels in urine are a symptom of pre-eclampsia and high sugar levels are a symptom of gestational diabetes
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can occur later in pregnancy, usually after the twentieth week.1 It causes your blood pressure to rise to serious levels and increases the risk of complications for you and your baby. A rise in protein levels in your urine can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia when accompanied by a rise in blood pressure. Other symptoms of pre-eclampsia are a weight gain that is too rapid (more than 2 pounds in a week) and headaches.
If you are showing symptoms of pre-eclampsia, your healthcare provider will start to monitor you much more closely, possibly even checking you every day. He or she may recommend that you stay in bed to help keep your blood pressure under control.1 If pre-eclampsia is not controlled well, you can develop eclampsia, and start to have seizures, but eclampsia is rare.
If your pregnancy is advanced, after week 37, your doctor may talk to you about delivering your baby early. The only cure for pre-eclampsia is to deliver your baby. 2
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy and goes away after your baby is born. The main symptom is high blood sugar levels, which in turn cause high levels of sugar in your urine.3
Having high blood sugar levels can affect your baby, making him or her grow larger than he or she would normally have. This sounds like a good thing, but it is not because the extra weight is in the form of fat. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are at greater risk for being obese or having diabetes as adults.3 A larger baby also increases the likelihood that you may need a cesarean delivery.
If you have gestational diabetes, you will be asked to follow a special diet and make sure to get the right amount of physical activity.4 You will also have to test your blood daily for glucose levels and may have to inject insulin.
Once your baby is born, your blood sugar levels will usually return to normal. But you are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
And that’s why you are asked to provide urine at your prenatal visits. All that good information in that little cup of pee!
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