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Prenatal Genetic Testing

Prenatal Genetic Testing

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If your baby had a serious health problem, would you want to know? Prenatal genetic testing can be a difficult subject, and parents are largely divided over this issue. Some want to know all of the possible health risks so that they can make an informed decision about the pregnancy. Others feel that it would only cause them to worry especially if an abnormality comes back but the physician is not sure how significant it is.

There are over 500 prenatal genetic tests available today to test for genetic disorders such as Huntington's disease, Downs Syndrome, spina bifida, and Tay-Sachs. Prenatal genetic testing can take a number of different forms, including blood tests, an amniocentesis (a long, thin needle is inserted through the womb and into the amniotic sac, where a small amount of the fluid is withdrawn) or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which involves taking a cell sample from the placenta.

Usually, women over the age of 35 are advised to undergo prenatal genetic testing because the risk of the fetus having certain abnormalities increases drastically after this age. For instance, the risk of having a child with Downs Syndrome increases to one in 200 for women over age 35. Today, it is becoming more common for physicians to suggest prenatal genetic testing for women of all ages.

If a fetus is diagnosed with a genetic abnormality, parents face a tough choice. They can choose whether they wish to terminate the pregnancy, or to deal with the abnormality once the child is born. Genetic testing can't determine how extensive an abnormality is, or what symptoms will be present, so parents have no idea how serious an abnormality may be.

Diseases such as breast cancer may also be diagnosed by some types of prenatal genetic testing. Again, some parents may want to know about the health obstacles their child will face down the road, while many feel that predicting a disease that occurs far into adulthood will only take away from the child's quality of life.

Some of the prenatal genetic tests carry some risk for the mother and her unborn baby. Amniocentesis has a risk of about one in 200 to one in 400 of causing a miscarriage, and CVS carries about a one in 100 risk. Although prenatal genetic testing can provide some parents with relief and help them make an informed decision, each parent has to make the choice that they feel is the best for themselves and their unborn child. A physician can best explain the risks and benefits of each procedure.

 


 
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