Should You Do Prenatal Testing?

One Way to Find Out If Your Baby Has Down Syndrome

Girl with Down Symdome
Girl with Down Symdome. Stephanie Keith / Stringer / Getty Images

Prenatal testing can tell parents-to-be whether or not the baby they are carrying has Down syndrome and other disorders. Because there is no cure for Down syndrome, the decision of whether or not to undergo prenatal testing –– either screening tests or diagnostic tests –– can be a difficult one to make.

Screening tests include nuchal translucency testing, maternal serum testing and ultrasound. Diagnostic testing typically refer to either amniocentesis or chorionic villi sampling.

It is up to you to decide which tests, if any, you would like to have during a pregnancy. Your doctor can assist you in providing information about your risk to have a baby with Down syndrome and your testing options, but it is up to you to decide if you want testing for these conditions. 

Deciding to Do Prenatal Testing

The decision to have prenatal testing during a pregnancy is a personal one. There are a number of different factors to think about when considering prenatal testing and it is up to each person to weigh the importance of these factors. No one can tell you what is right for you. Each parent must weigh the pros and cons of each testing option and decide for themselves what they are comfortable with.

A positive screening test can be scary. Follow-up diagnostic tests are available, but they have some risks associated with them and it takes some time to get the results, which can be very hard for some expecting parents.

In making a decision about any form of prenatal testing during pregnancy, it is important to consider different questions before making your decision.

Questions to Consider Before Prenatal Testing

Below are some questions that you should consider when you are trying to decide whether or not to have prenatal testing in your pregnancy:

  • Do you need to have any information about whether or not your baby has Down syndrome during your pregnancy?
  • If you are you a ”need-to-know” person, can you live with an estimate of your risk or do you need to have a definitive answer?
  • How would you react emotionally to screening results? Would you be able to go through the rest of your pregnancy with a little uncertainty, or would you need a definitive answer to keep your anxiety under control?
  • Would you consider diagnostic testing if you had a positive screening tests?
  • Would you be comfortable taking the small but real risk of miscarriage associated with diagnostic testing?
  • What would you do if an abnormality was detected? Down syndrome cannot be cured –– the only options if a fetus is diagnosed during pregnancy is to continue the pregnancy and have a baby with Down syndrome, or end the pregnancy by having an abortion. Is this something you would consider?
  • Would knowing ahead of time that your baby had Down syndrome help you prepare for the birth of a baby with Down syndrome?
  • Would knowing that your baby didn’t have Down syndrome during pregnancy be important to you?

The Bottom Line

These are some of the tough questions that you should ask yourself before you have any form of prenatal testing –– screening or diagnostic. No one can answer these questions for you, but your answers can help you decide which form of testing, if any, would be the best for you.

Sources:

Newberger, D., Down Syndrome: Prenatal Risk Assessment and Diagnosis. American Family Physician. 2001.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Your Pregnancy and Birth, 4th Edition. ACOG, Washington, DC, 2005.

Stray-Gunderson,Karen. Babies with Down Syndrome: A New Parents' Guide Woodbine House. 1995

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