Around the time of your first or second prenatal appointment, your obstetrician or midwife will offer you prenatal testing beyond what is routinely done in the office. These screenings are not for everybody, so it is important to thoroughly discuss the risks and benefits of prenatal testing with your provider to see whether these tests are right for your situation.
There are several things to consider when deciding whether to undergo prenatal testing.
Some tests involve just a simple a blood test and an extra ultrasound compared against the mother’s age. These types of tests pose little to no threat to mother or baby. Other tests are more invasive, using a needle to sample cells from the placenta or taking samples of amniotic fluid. As expected, crossing into the uterus carries some amount of risk. It is important to what exactly is involved before test time.
How accurate are the tests?
Much of the time, prenatal testing will give a result that is read as a “percent increase in likelihood” that the baby will have a defect. If test results indicate that there is a chance of a birth defect, additional testing will be ordered. Even then, the absence or presence of a birth defect is not always black-and-white.
Be honest with yourself. Will an increased chance of a defect cause you anxiety and dread until the baby is born, or will you be able to hope for the best but calmly prepare for a child with a defect?
What comes after an undesirable result?
Talk to your provider about the course of action should you get concerning test results. Prenatal testing may leave you with difficult decisions, such as whether to continue the pregnancy or whether to undergo risky treatments during pregnancy. In some cases, low-risk treatment options are available before birth, or the pediatrician will be alerted to specific needs for treatment shortly after birth. Other times, test results will provide little more than anxiety as the pregnancy progresses.
Decide beforehand whether or not results will give you information that you can act on in order to improve the outcome of the pregnancy.
Finally, consider the expense of prenatal testing. Some will be covered by medical insurance, others are paid out-of-pocket. You and your doctor or midwife can decide whether or not the information gained through prenatal testing is worth the costs involved.
Prenatal testing can provide life-saving benefit to the right candidate. However, certain prenatal tests may not be appropriate for low-risk pregnancies when no other indicators are present. Your obstetrician or midwife can provide the guidance you need to make the right decision for you and your baby.