Can You Get a Pap Smear While Pregnant?

Doctor holding cervical smear equipment
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Many people who are newly pregnant wonder if they can (or should) get a Pap smear while pregnant. The answer is yes. In fact, most doctors recommend getting a Pap smear (also known as a Pap test) in early pregnancy as a part of routine prenatal care.

The test checks for abnormal cervical cells, which could mean cervical cancer. It's a good idea to get regular Pap smears even when you're not pregnant.

Your doctor will likely recommend getting your first Pap test by age 21—or three years after first having sexual intercourse—and then every three years until age 29.

It's generally recommended that people with a vagina ages 30 to 65 get a Pap test—along with an HPV test—every five years. But ask your physician what the ideal frequency is for you.

What Happens During a Pap Smear

During a Pap smear, you undress from the waist down and lie on your back on an examining table, where you will spread your legs and put your feet into stirrups. A sheet is placed over your thighs. The doctor, midwife, or nurse practitioner uses a medical tool called a speculum, along with lubrication, to examine the cervix. They then uses a small brush or spatula to swab a sample of cells from the cervix for testing. 

Some people feel nothing during a Pap smear, while others feel mild discomfort. The more that you are able to relax your body and vaginal muscles, the more comfortable the Pap test usually is. However, some people may be more sensitive to the exam than others.

Research shows that the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly since Pap smears became a routine test. Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S.

Can Pap Smears Cause Miscarriage?

Research does not show a causal relationship between miscarriage and getting a pap smear while pregnant. Some people may experience light spotting after the test, due to the sensitivity of the cervix during pregnancy. However, it's extremely unlikely that a Pap test would cause a miscarriage. Usually, the fertilized egg is implanted higher up in the uterus and is not near the cervix at all.

Even in the event that the fetus is implanted lower in the uterus and closer to the cervix, the cervix is quite thick in the first trimester, so the light scraping from a Pap test would not disturb an implanted fertilized egg.

Unfortunately, given that roughly 15% to 20% of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage, some people do inevitably miscarry after having a Pap smear. Some may even start having symptoms of miscarriage after having had a Pap smear earlier that same day. However, research tells us that, by and large, these events are coincidental rather than linked.

Symptoms of miscarriage might include vaginal bleeding that's bright red or brown, cramping or back pain, and the passing of tissue through the vagina. Keep in mind though that even if a miscarriage does occur, this does not mean that the Pap smear caused the pregnancy loss. It's far more likely that the miscarriage symptoms coincidentally happened to appear right after the test.

If Your Pap Smear Is Abnormal

If a Pap test does show abnormalities, then your doctor might perform a second test called a colposcopy, which will allow them to look at your cervix more closely. This test is still safe during pregnancy, because it only looks at the outside of the cervix.

Depending on the results of the colposcopy, your healthcare provider may recommend a follow-up Pap smear in a year. If they are concerned that the abnormal cells might become cancerous, they will surgically remove them—but not until after delivery. It's OK to wait, because cervical cancer progresses slowly.

A Word From Verywell

If you are worried about getting a Pap smear during early pregnancy, discuss your concerns with your prenatal care provider. It's possible that you can postpone the Pap test until your postpartum checkup, especially if you have a history of normal Pap results. However, know that the Pap test is considered safe (and is recommended) during pregnancy in order to protect your health.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What happens during prenatal visits?.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cervical cancer statistics.

  3. Abdul AE, Mudau TS, Chabedi MA. Perceptions of midwives on Pap smear tests during pregnancyAsian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2020;21(10):3039-3043. doi:10.31557/APJCP.2020.21.10.3039

  4. Awosemusi Y. Pap smears are safe—before, during, and after pregnancy. UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Additional Reading

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.