Many people consider prenatal genetic testing at various points in their lives — whether it’s to control and understand inherited conditions, to determine heritage, or perhaps even just to learn about unique physical traits. One of the most important times to weigh the pros and cons of genetic testing is during pregnancy. Prenatal genetic testing can answer many questions about an unborn child’s health and provide guidance as to whether additional testing is needed.
However, it is common for people to have questions about prenatal genetic testing both before and after pregnancy. Is it safe to get a genetic test while pregnant? Are the tests reliable and consistent? Is it better to just get a screening? It can be difficult to say for certain if prenatal genetic testing is best for you, but there are some definite benefits to genetic testing during pregnancy. By equipping yourself with the answers to these vital questions, you can help dispel any concerns you may have about prenatal genetic testing.
What Types Of Genetic Tests Are Available?
There are two common types of genetic tests that can be conducted during pregnancy. Screening tests are a battery of checks and evaluations, and they are designed to take a more widespread approach to looking at genetic markers. Conversely, diagnostic tests are more focused, and they seek to determine the extent and nature of any results found from a screening. Screening can be considered a general checkup, and diagnostics is a focused follow-up for any issues or curiosities that might have arisen.
If you have questions about your genetics, many healthcare professionals may recommend a screening test to get a “big picture” view of what makes you uniquely you. On the other hand, if the results of a screening test require further exploration, a diagnostic test will allow a genetic counselor to confirm and clarify specific results.
Is Prenatal Genetic Testing Safe For Me?
Most types of genetic tests require a blood draw from the mother. There is a very slight risk of complications, though these are quite rare. Indeed, as an expectant mother, there is a battery of exams required during pregnancy, and NIPT (noninvasive prenatal testing) is a genetic test that can be quite similar to these tests.
If you decide to undergo prenatal genetic testing, there is a very real risk that the results may bring further questions. You may discover the risk of hereditary disorders that skipped your generation but will be present in your children, genetic complications that will negatively impact your adult life down the line, or even something like infidelity.
You should speak with your healthcare provider (as well as a genetic counselor) about whether prenatal genetic testing is appropriate for you. Either way, it’s important to remember that you are completely unique, and you’ll also learn more about your heritage, your family strengths, and special gifts that you may have and not even be aware of.
Is It Safe For My Unborn Baby?
As mentioned above, NIPT poses little to no risk to parents. The risk of a blood draw having negative effects is minimal. However, while you can learn a lot by having both donor parents genetically tested, an NIPT can only provide you with so much information. Should you require additional testing, neonatal or embryonic fluid may need to be drawn directly from the womb. This does carry a small risk of harm, lasting injury, or even miscarriage.
NIPT is a good starting place with a low risk of negative side effects. If you have a family history of known complications, it may be appropriate to have a few additional tests done directly on your unborn child. Ultimately, the decision is yours and should be made only after weighing the pros and cons and discussing them with your loved ones and medical professionals.
Pregnancy can come with a host of questions and uncertainty, and it’s important to take the time to fully educate yourself about the risks and benefits of prenatal genetic testing. The pursuit of knowledge — especially self-knowledge that may affect your wellbeing — is never a bad thing. If you can’t find the answers you need, consult a genetic counselor or medical provider to find the best answer for your circumstance.