Q: Why do I need a Pap smear during pregnancy? What's my doctor looking for?
A: For the same reasons you've probably had Pap smears before getting pregnant, it's important to continue getting them once you're expecting. The test looks for changes to cells in the cervix (the lower end of your uterus) that could lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. A Pap is a routine part of ob-gyn visits, and you'll probably have one at your first prenatal appointment. At the same time, your doctor will also likely test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like chlamydia or gonorrhea, which could cause problems for your baby if left untreated.
A Pap smear done during pregnancy will be the same as any other; it involves your doctor using a thin brush or tiny spatula to collect a sampling of cells from your cervix, which are then sent to a lab for evaluation. A cotton swab will also be used to collect a sample of your cervical and/or vaginal secretions to be tested for STDs.
Pap results are usually available within one to two weeks depending on the lab your doctor uses. If abnormal cells are found, your doctor will do a thorough exam of your cervix and may repeat the test in a few weeks. For most women, abnormal cells are no cause for alarm. There's a good chance that your results were unclear, hard-to-read or thrown off because of something minor, like a yeast infection. And if, after further testing, it turns out that precancerous cells are found, your doctor will likely wait until after your baby's born to treat them. If an STD is detected, you'll receive treatment (many are easily cured with antibiotics) to protect you and your baby.