The Alpha-fetoprotein test (AFP test) is a prenatal screening test performed on pregnant women. It measures the level of alpha-fetoprotein, a protein produced by the baby’s liver, in the mother’s blood. Elevated AFP levels can indicate potential birth defects in the baby, such as neural tube defects and genetic disorders like Down syndrome.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Alpha-fetoprotein test (AFP) is a blood test performed during pregnancy, usually between the 14th and 22nd weeks, to screen for a range of congenital disabilities in a fetus. This includes neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome.
  2. The AFP test is not diagnostic but merely a screening tool. High or low levels of AFP might indicate the need for additional testing, such as ultrasound or amniocentesis, to confirm and diagnose potential issues.
  3. It’s important to note that abnormal test results don’t necessarily mean there is a problem with the fetus. AFP levels can be influenced by multiple factors such as multiple pregnancies (twins or triplets), incorrect dating of the pregnancy, or maternal liver disease.


The term “Alpha-fetoprotein test” (AFP) is critical in motherhood as it’s often used as part of a screening process during pregnancy, specifically to evaluate the likelihood of certain birth defects in a developing baby.

These include neural tube defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly, as well as chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome.

The test measures levels of alpha-fetoprotein in a pregnant woman’s blood, with unusually high or low levels potentially indicating the presence of these conditions.

Conducted typically between the 14th and 22nd weeks of pregnancy, the AFP test plays a crucial part in ensuring the wellbeing and healthy development of an unborn child.


The primary purpose of an Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test during motherhood is to check the health status of the fetus during the crucial stages of development. This test is a type of blood test generally performed between the 14th and 22nd weeks of pregnancy, predominantly during the second trimester.

It monitors the level of alpha-fetoprotein in the mother’s bloodstream, a protein produced by the fetus that enters the mother’s blood during pregnancy. The AFP test gives essential insights about potential birth defects or abnormalities in the fetus.

Higher-than-normal levels of AFP might indicate plausible problems such as neural tube defects including spina bifida or anencephaly. On the other hand, abnormally low levels of AFP may suggest chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome.

Keep in mind that the AFP test is a screening tool that only identifies your risk, thus abnormal results are followed by more precise tests to confirm any diagnosis.

Examples of Alpha-fetoprotein test

The Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test is a blood test performed on pregnant women to screen for certain potential birth defects in their unborn child. Here are three real-world examples:

Example 1: A pregnant woman living in New York undergoes an Alpha-fetoprotein test as part of her second-trimester screening. Her doctor has recommended it because she is past a certain age, putting her at an increased risk of giving birth to a child with birth defects such as Down Syndrome or spina bifida. The results of the AFP test, along with other screenings, help her doctor assess this risk.

Example 2: A woman in London is expecting her second child. After experiencing a stressful pregnancy with her first child, she wants to be certain everything is developing normally this time. Her healthcare provider performs an AFP test to screen for any abnormalities, along with other tests, to give her peace of mind.

Example 3: In Sydney, a couple expecting their first child are offered an AFP test as part of their routine prenatal care. They decide to move forward with the test to ensure that their child is not at risk for conditions such as neural tube defects, a category of birth defects that affect the baby’s brain and spine. The couple uses the AFP test results to anticipate any potential medical issues or special care their child might need.

Alpha-fetoprotein Test FAQs

What is an alpha-fetoprotein test?

The alpha-fetoprotein test (AFP) is a blood test given to mothers during their pregnancy to check the levels of AFP, a substance produced in the liver of an unborn baby. High levels can suggest potential health issues such as birth defects.

Why is the alpha-fetoprotein test done?

This test is done to identify whether the baby has signs of certain serious congenital disabilities like spina bifida or anencephaly. It can also indicate whether the mother is carrying more than one baby, or if the baby is older than previously thought.

How is the alpha-fetoprotein test performed?

An alpha-fetoprotein test is carried out by taking a blood sample from the mother. This sample is sent to a laboratory for further testing and analysis against certain standard values.

What do the test results mean?

Higher than usual levels of AFP can indicate neural tube defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly, whilst low levels might point to chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome. However, fluctuations in AFP can also be due to inaccurate dating of the pregnancy, and the results of AFP alone can’t confirm or rule out a diagnosis. More tests are typically needed.

Are there any risks associated with the test?

There are no direct risks linked with taking a blood sample for the alpha-fetoprotein test. The main concern is the accuracy of the test and the potential for false positive or false negative results, which could cause undue stress or confusion.

Related Motherhood Terms

  • Prenatal Screening
  • Birth Defect Detection
  • Spina Bifida
  • Down Syndrome Detection
  • Genetic Abnormalities Testing

Sources for More Information

  • Mayo Clinic: A renowned central hub for medical and health information. They provide extensive knowledge about the alpha-fetoprotein test.
  • WebMD: A trusted source for health and medical related content. They provide detailed information about the alpha-fetoprotein test.
  • MedlinePlus: A service of the National Library of Medicine, provides up-to-date, reliable health information, including details about the alpha-fetoprotein test.
  • Healthline: They provide medical information and health advice that is easy for anyone to understand, including an overview of the alpha-fetoprotein test.