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Prenatal Tests: Choosing The Right Ones

By Janelle Green, CNM, MSN

Prenatal Tests: Choosing The Right Ones

Picking prenatal tests

After learning you’re pregnant, you may be surprised to find that many decisions regarding the health of your baby need to be made sooner than you’d realized. In fact, you’re likely to be asked to make some important decisions at your very first prenatal visit.

In addition to choosing healthy foods, and a healthcare provider you trust, you’ll need to choose which prenatal tests are right for you. Many of the tests must be done at specific times during pregnancy for the most accurate results.

If you have specific family health or ethnic factors, some blood tests may be done to look for the risk of specific genetic disorders, such as Cystic Fibrosis, Tay Sachs, and Sickle Cell anemia. Mothers and fathers of Northern European, African and Jewish decent, as well as anyone with a family history of these conditions, should talk to their healthcare provider about these tests. Accuracy and risk vary according to the type of test performed and family history.

Know you always have the right to refuse any test, or to ask for more time or more resources. You may also consider consulting a genetic counselor in addition to your prenatal care provider.

Read more about  Prenatal Care & Tests

Choosing prenatal testing

As you consider learning more about the health of your pregnancy and your baby, ask yourself the following questions:

What information will this test give me? Most genetic tests can only tell you if your baby has an increased risk for genetic abnormalities. Those that are the most accurate are also the most invasive.

How accurate are the results? Most tests aren’t 100% accurate. This means that even if you have an increased risk, there is still a chance that the test is wrong and that your baby is healthy.

What will you do with the results? Would you do anything differently? Feel better knowing the information in advance? Some families feel they will be better prepared if they know that their child might have a disability. Others feel they will worry constantly and that more information wouldn’t make a difference in their choices anyway.

What are the risks for myself or my baby? Not all tests are without risk. Amniocentesis and CVS can both cause miscarriage and/or infection, though rates of complication are low (1% or less), they depend upon the experience of the practitioner performing the test.

Read: Beyond Prenatals

Common tests

Nuchal TranslucencyTriple Marker or “Quad Screen”Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)Amniocentesis

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UltrasoundBlood testA sample of your placenta is taken either by placing a small tube through your vagina or a needle through the skin of your abdomenFluid from your uterus is removed for testing using a needle that is placed through the skin of your abdomen

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Looks for risk of Down syndrome and other genetic issuesAbnormal levels may mean that there are problems with your baby’s brain or spineTests for Down syndromeTests for Down syndrome and other genetic issues

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10-14 weeks15-20 weeksCan be done between 10-12 weeksMust be done after 14 weeks

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When combined with blood tests can be 78-87% accurateVaries between 81-94% or better depending on timing98- 99%98-99%

Janelle Green, CNM, MSN, is a midwife and mom in Central California; she is also an expert advisor to Healthy Mom&Baby, and Health4Mom.org.


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