As more women are waiting longer to have children, there has been more focus on prenatal testing to screen for the chromosomal anomalies, like Down syndrome. This is due in large part to the fact that women who get pregnant after age 35 are at greater risk of having a baby with one of these anomalies. Additionally, as medical scientists become aware of the causes of different birth defects and genetic diseases, they are developing tests to identify these diseases before birth. However, although these tests are available, there are some concerns about whether or not these tests are necessary, especially considering some of the risks.
Who Gets Prenatal Testing?
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that doctors suggest prenatal screening for chromosomal anomalies to all pregnant women, regardless of age. However, women over age 35 are strongly urged to undergo screening because they have a one in 200 risk of having a pregnancy with chromosomal anomalies. Additionally, couples who have family histories of genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, and women who are Rh negative are urged to get prenatal screening.
Types of Screening Tests
Screening tests can be both invasive and non-invasive. The non-invasive tests include blood tests and ultrasounds, and are considered safe. Non-invasive test do the preliminary screening for potential illnesses and disorders. If the non-invasive tests show a problem, a doctor would then recommend an invasive test.
Invasive tests include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS), and are considered risky procedures. The invasive tests usually involve drawing samples of amniotic fluid, which can be risky for the fetus. The invasive tests are used to verify issues that might send up a red flag during an ultrasound or screening blood test.
A newer type of test, the non-invasive prenatal test, can detect chromosomal anomalies and genetic conditions without the miscarriage risk associated with amniocentesis and CVS. These tests can sometimes return results faster than the standard invasive tests.
The Risks of Prenatal Screening
Miscarriage is the biggest physical risk of prenatal testing, but there can also be emotional risks. In an article in the Motherlode section of the New York Times, Amy Julia Becker describes how prenatal testing can sometimes harm as much as it helps. The biggest issue is in the way our society views illness, especially genetic and chromosomal disorders. If a couple gets a positive test result, then what was a potential person now becomes a condition that needs to be handled. Additionally, many people, medical professionals included, consider Down syndrome and other disabilities the worst thing that can happen to a person and are often quick to suggest termination when a couple gets a positive result.
Screening tests can also give this false sense of control. The screening is viewed as prevention, as if not getting the screening will somehow make it more likely that the fetus will have a problem. However, that is simply not true. These tests detect issues that already exist, and there isn’t anything you can do to change the situation save terminating the pregnancy. Therefore, not getting the screening test won’t determine whether or not there’s an issue, just whether or not you know about it before hand.
The Benefits of Prenatal Screening
Reading this article it might seem as if prenatal screening is more trouble than its worth. However, despite some of the issues, many couples can still benefit from prenatal testing.
Although a couple can’t change whether or not the fetus has a chromosomal anomaly, or genetic disease, knowing in advance allows them to prepare themselves so that they can actually enjoy the day of delivery. Getting surprised on the day of delivery can often cause stress that not only dampens the joy of the moment, but can also affect how they treat their new child.
Short of termination, prenatal testing won’t let you change any positive test results, it will only make you aware of what is happening. If you want to know for sure whether or not you will need to prepare for a child with a chromosomal abnormality or genetic defect, then prenatal screening will give you the information you need to prepare yourself.