What Is Prenatal Testing?

Pregnancy is a time when there can be a lot of anxiety for the parents to be. For some, prenatal testing can help procure the information they want about a baby’s overall health. Through screening and diagnostic testing, you can get answers to questions like if your baby is likely to have a birth defect.

While prenatal testing won’t be able to make a definitive diagnosis, there are some benefits to considering having it done. Let’s take a close look at what prenatal testing is.

Purpose of Prenatal Testing

Prenatal testing is done on a pregnant woman and their developing fetus to detect any potential signs of a genetic abnormality or birth defect present. The hope is, with this knowledge, steps can be taken to manage or treat the child immediately after birth and to be aware of what’s expected after birth.

Prenatal Testing Is Not Mandatory

Some prenatal tests are done routinely as a part of an average pregnancy. Then, more specific testing is recommended based on a woman’s medical history, family history, and other concerns. No prenatal test is mandatory. A pregnant woman can always decline. Many parents have children without any prenatal testing done.

What Type Of Screening Tests Are Done For Prenatal Testing?

Prenatal testing screening tests include blood tests, ultrasounds, and prenatal DNA screening. These tests are typically done in the first or second trimester. This is where prenatal testing begins. If there are signs of an abnormality somewhere, a doctor may recommend moving ahead with diagnostic tests to confirm what’s present in the screening tests.

What Type of Diagnostic Tests Are Done for Prenatal Testing?

Diagnostic tests may be recommended if a screening test has indicated trouble or something in your background, such as a medical history of a certain condition. Prenatal diagnostic tests such as chorionic vollus sampling or amniocentesis can be invasive. There are also risks involved with prenatal diagnostic tests, such as a small risk of miscarriage. Whether to complete prenatal diagnostic tests is ultimately up to the parents.

What Prenatal Screening Tests Can Tell You

In your first trimester, a blood test and ultrasound to measure the tissue size at the back of the baby’s neck can indicate a likelihood of Down syndrome and other conditions.

In your second trimester, a quad screen blood test measures four substances in the mother’s blood. It can identify if your baby’s at a higher risk of neural tube defects, brain or spinal cord abnormalities, and certain chromosomal conditions, including Down syndrome.

Prenatal cell-free DNA screening looks at fetal DNA in the mother’s bloodstream to determine if chromosomal problems are present and can also let you know the baby’s sex and blood type.

Prenatal Tests You Get Done Through A Pregnancy

Several prenatal tests are performed as part of a regular pregnancy and are non-invasive. In other words, you can take the paternity test while pregnant.

Blood pressure tests can ensure you don’t have a condition of high blood pressure known as preeclampsia. This can occur after the 20th week of pregnancy and cause serious problems for the baby.

Urine tests are to verify the pregnant mother’s bladder and kidney are working well. Preeclampsia can also be detected by spotting higher-than-average amounts of protein in the urine.

Blood tests are taken to rule out syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV, among other infections. Blood tests can also detect anemia when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. This can impact the baby.

Should You Get Prenatal Testing?

While there are risks associated with specific tests, if you want to get more than the basic prenatal testing done, the results can help ease anxiety in a big way.

If prenatal testing does indicate your baby has a birth defect, for some parents, it brings about the difficult question of whether to continue the pregnancy. There are also other parents who, with the information provided by prenatal testing, find they can better plan for the future with their child.

Accuracy of Prenatal Testing

Prenatal testing is not perfect. Like with most other tests, you can get a false result. It’s not common, but it does happen. Different prenatal tests have different false-negative and false-positive percentages. Assuming you receive more than one type of prenatal test, this would be the ultimate way to determine with some certainty the accuracy of what a test shows.

Speak with a Genetic Counselor

A genetic counsellor is typically recommended to speak with as they will help you understand better what prenatal testing results can mean for your family. A genetic counsellor is trained to help parents understand birth defects and medical conditions in families and what to prepare for post-birth with a child at a high risk of being diagnosed with such.