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Are you scheduled for a PAP smear during pregnancy and are you worried this may cause a miscarriage? Fortunately, you have no reason to be worried — a PAP smear is a routine procedure that does not pose a risk to your baby.

What Is A PAP Smear?

PAP smears, also known as Papanicolau tests or cervical screening tests, are tests that look for abnormal cells on the cervix, the entrance to the uterus. A PAP smear isn't a cervical cancer test, but rather a test that assesses the health of the cells found in the cervix. Abnormalities do not have to be cancerous, but they can indicate that there is an increased risk of cancer and that you are in need of further monitoring. 

All women are recommended to start having PAP smears at age 21, and should the results come back normal, the next test is due three years after the previous test until a woman reaches age 49, at which point the frequency is reduced to once every five years. Though UK guidelines advise women to wait until their baby is three months old before having a PAP test, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women have PAP smears on schedule, like the non-pregnant population. 

What Side Effects Can PAP Smears Cause?

During a PAP test, you will lie on a table, usually with your feet in stirrups. A speculum is inserted into your vagina, which allows your healthcare provider to see your cervix. They will then take a quick swab of the cervix, after which the collected cells are sent off to a lab for analysis. 

Women undergoing their first PAP smear usually feel relieved — the thought of having your cervix swabbed is a whole lot scarier than the practice. The smear is literally over within seconds. Some women will, however, feel some pressure and even menstrual-like cramps. There may also be a little bleeding. The chance of bleeding actually does goes up if you have a PAP smear when you are pregnant, because the blood flow to your reproductive organs is increased during this time. (It is for this reason that pregnant women also sometimes bleed slightly after intercourse — again, this is not something you need to worry about unless you have other symptoms such as pain and cramping.)

You should tell your healthcare provider that you are pregnant, but there is no reason to put your PAP smear off. 

Can A PAP Smear Cause A Miscarriage?

In short, no. Cervical screening does not lead to a miscarriage. There is no reason to be worried about having a PAP smear during pregnancy if you were due to have one. Unfortunately, around 20 percent of women will miscarry. Women who do have a miscarriage will often want to know why, and if they recently had a PAP smear, they may think the answer lies there. It is important to remember that correlation does not equal causation, however. 

If you have been invited to have a PAP test, think of it as just another part of your regular prenatal care, just like blood tests, ultrasound scans, and physical examinations during which your OBGYN or midwife also examines your cervix. Should abnormal cells be found, this may affect the management of your pregnancy, and you will be able to discuss the treatment options with your doctor in detail. 

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