There are few things in life that are capable of sucking the life right out of you than a reminder that you're due for your routine pap smear. Despite only being mildly uncomfortable, and lasting only a few minutes, there is an almighty sense of dread that accompanies such an appointment. After all, no one wants a stranger examining their most private parts. However, pap smears are vital for women, and can literally saves lives. The simple test can detect the very earliest signs of cervical cancer, so the disease can be treated before it spreads.
It is so important to keep up with the routine appointments, but what happens if you're due for a test while you're pregnant? Many women are confused as to whether they should or shouldn't have a pap smear during pregnancy. The general advice given is that in most cases you should consider delaying until after you've had your baby, although there are times when the benefits of having a pap smear during pregnancy outweigh the potential issues associated with the timing.
Why Should I Delay?
The first, and most important, aspect to note is that the recommendation that women delay their pap smear until after they've given birth is not because the test is in any way dangerous for you or your baby during pregnancy. The swab that is used to collect cells is placed just inside the opening of the cervix, so it stays well clear of the amniotic sac and the baby. Therefore, if you do need a test during pregnancy, don't worry!
The reason why it's advised that you postpone the test is because the way the test works is that it detects changes in the cells of the cervix. If some of the cells collected in the sample are slightly odd, it could indicate that there is something going on. It does not necessarily mean cervical cancer, it could mean a diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis, or other conditions that can be easily treated. The issue is that, during pregnancy, the abundance of hormones racing around the body which nourish and grow your baby naturally cause these cells to behave differently. This means that there is a very high chance of a false positive if the test is undertaken during pregnancy. While a false positive isn't dangerous or risky, it can be stressful, and unnecessary stress during pregnancy really isn't needed!
How Long Should I Delay My Appointment For?
If you had a normal vaginal birth with minimal complications, or a cesarean birth, you should wait about three months after the birth before scheduling your appointment with your gynecologist. Three months not only gives the pregnancy hormones time to decrease and the cells of the cervix time to return to normal, it also gives your downstairs area a chance to recuperate and heal before being stretched by the speculum.
However, if you suffered significant trauma during the birth, such as a third degree tear, or a fourth degree tear where the wall between the vagina and the bottom breaks down, you may wish to delay for a few extra months. However, this really depends upon how you're feeling personally. If you've healed well and are feeling like your old self, there is no reason why you shouldn't schedule a test for three months postpartum, but don't feel pressured. You'll know yourself when you're ready.
Are There Any Exceptions?
In some cases, it may be a good idea to consider having a pap smear during pregnancy. The first reason is if you haven't had a test in over five years. Women should typically have a test every three to five years to ensure everything is OK, but if you're pregnant and are well overdue for a pap smear, you should think about getting tested as if there is anything untoward going on down there, there is a small chance the pregnancy could be affected.
Secondly, if you become pregnant whilst you're waiting for test results, and the results show abnormal cells, it is best to have another test, and possibly a colposcopy, to determine exactly why the cells are showing as abnormal. A colposcopy is completely safe during pregnancy, so don't worry. If you get a diagnosis which needs treatment, you will probably be advised to wait until after the birth to start on treatment methods, due to risks to the pregnancy. This can be quite scary, especially if the diagnosis is of a serious condition, but keep in mind that pregnancy is only nine months long, and the cells in your cervix are unlikely to change dramatically within those nine months.