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What's Growing In Your Family Tree?

There is more to a healthy conception and pregnancy than simply eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise. No matter how carefully you monitor your health; there is always the chance that your baby will be born with a genetic defect. Many of these defects come from you or your partner, and are inherited by the fetus. There are numerous prenatal tests that you and your partner can choose to undergo to determine if your baby is at risk of developing a genetic defect.

You and your partner both pass on DNA to your child, and if any link within this genetic blueprint is faulty, a genetic disorder can occur. The most common genetic disorders are Down syndrome, spina bifida, sickle cell disease, and cystic fibrosis. An error in any one of these 25,000 to 35,000 genes that we carry can mean the difference between having a normal baby or one born with genetic complications. In the case of conditions like Huntington's disease, only one parent needs to be a carrier. Both partners must be a carrier of cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs or sickle cell anemia in order to pass it on to the fetus. Down syndrome is not usually inherited from the parents, but rather a result of other factors such as age or ethnicity.

Your ethnicity does play a role in genetic disorders. If you are of Cajun, Irish or European Jewish descent, you have an increased risk of having a child born with Tay-Sachs disease, while couples with African lineage have a higher incidence of having a baby born with sickle cell anemia.

If your doctor feels it is necessary, he or she will refer you to a genetic counsellor. A genetic counsellor will take a detailed look at your family history and provide you with valuable information about the risk your child has of developing the same disorder. He or she will look at all of your medical records, as well as ordering any required genetic testing.

While doctors aren't entirely sure if genetics or environment causes defects such as club foot, certain heart problems and cleft palate, most believe that it's a combination of the two. These genetic disorders can usually be corrected with surgery once your baby is born.

You should consult your doctor before you plan on conceiving, so he or she can discuss your family history and options for genetic testing with you. While genetic testing may be recommended, it is a personal choice that only you and your partner can make.


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