In the UK, all women aged 25 to 64 are invited for a regular cervical screening test under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme every three to five years. (Thank you, NHS!)
What is a cervical screening test?
Despite what many think, cervical screening is not a test to detect cancer, but instead detects the presence of the HPV virus and abnormalities within the cervix that could, if undetected and untreated, develop into cervical cancer. By catching these cells early, doctors are able to remove the troubling cells preventing cervical cancer later in life.
But despite the national programme, during the Covid-19 pandemic 1 in 3 women missed their cervical screening test.
At Mamamade we support our growing community of parents (old, new and expectant!). We know that sometimes when life gets busy (usually when little people arrive), it's tempting to put aside the reminder letter that drops through the door.
There's also the question, is it okay to book a smear test while pregnant? Do I need to have one when I'm pregnant? And how long do I need to wait after giving birth? We've got the answers for you below!
Cervical screening during pregnancy
According to the NHS, women are advised not to have a cervical screening test if they are pregnant or think they might be.
This isn't because the test causes any risk to your baby. It's because during pregnancy, the cervix gets softer and changes in shape and texture slightly, which can lead to changes in cervical cells. This means that abnormal cervical screening test results are very common during pregnancy, and make it difficult to get accurate results.
If you are pregnant and receive your cervical screening reminder, then it's best to contact your GP and let them know that this is the case. Most doctors will usually recommend waiting until at least 12 weeks after you've given birth before making your appointment, when your cervix is more likely to have returned to it's pre-pregnancy state.
However, if you have had an abnormal result from a previous cervical screening test then you may need to be screened while you're pregnant, which will usually be done between the third and sixth month of pregnancy. If this is the case then don't worry, as this shouldn't affect your pregnancy.
Cervical screening after birth
As mentioned above it's recommended to wait until 3 months after giving birth before having your smear test.
For some women, especially those who have had a traumatic birth experience, find it difficult to book and attend their first smear test after giving birth. If this is you, then be assured that cervical screening is not more painful after giving birth as long as your body has had enough time to recover.
However, it can be an emotional experience for some women. If this is you then you are definitely not alone in feeling anxious, and it's a good idea to tell your care provider about your concerns around this. Don't put it off, as it's one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.
If you've given birth more than 3 months ago and have received your reminder or have been putting off your cervical screening test then we encourage you to contact your GP or sexual health clinic to book yourself in.
If you've recently had a baby (or have one on the way!) then join our Facebook group, Mamamates, where our growing community of parents ask questions and share their experiences, stories and advice.