Usually between the 4th and 6th month of pregnancy, certain tests are carried out to detect anomalies in the fetus. They are not hundred percent correct but are considered as warning signals (if any).
Not everyone is advised to undergo genetic counseling. Only parents who have abnormal test results or are considered high-risk cases should approach a genetic counselor.
Let us now learn about the whole process, benefits and requirement of prenatal genetic counseling.
Cases where Genetic Counseling is Needed
Some couples have a higher chance of giving birth to a baby with birth defects. If the mother is more than 35 years of age and the father is older than 50, the risk goes up drastically. Alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse by the mother before and during pregnancy also contributes towards birth problems.
A family history (on both sides of the family) of birth defects, abnormalities and genetic disorders also places an unborn baby at risk of developing similar problems. Some medications (like antidepressants and cancer drugs) and treatments (like radiation and chemotherapy) are also considered very harmful.
Sometimes, even though there is no reason for a problem, the ultra sound and prenatal scans may detect problems. These must be investigated immediately with the help of a registered medical practitioner and certified genetic counselor.
Help offered by Genetic Counselors
A genetic counselor is a certified professional who has in depth knowledge about the causes and implications of genetic disorders. He/she is not a doctor but is qualified in hi/her own field of expertise.
When you approach a counselor for advice, he/she studies the detailed family history of both parents. She/he will make a list of any inherited disorders and diseases. The counselor will also apprise you of the risks involved in case of substance abuse (smoking, drinking etc.) by one or both parents.
Certain disorders are more prone to occur in specific racial and ethnic communities e.g. sickle cell anemia is common in the African population. This is also another factor that will be discussed by your counselor.
You must remember that he/she will only help in making you aware of your situation and options. Do not expect him/her to offer you a remedy or way out of the problem.
Common Tests Recommended by Genetic Counselors
There are various tests and scans available to help detect problems in advance. A test called Nuchal fold scan (along with a blood test) is done in the 3rd month of pregnancy to determine your chances of having a baby with Down’s syndrome and cardiac abnormalities.
In the 4th month of pregnancy, a test called the triple-marker scan is conducted by taking a blood sample. The presence of certain matter in the blood indicates a possibility of chromosomal and spinal defects.
CVS and amniocentesis are also helpful in detection of disorders and abnormalities in the fetus. Finally, you must always keep in mind that a positive anomaly scan does not always mean that your child will have problems.
Medical technology is not always accurate. It is the duty of your doctor to recommend genetic counseling when he/she feels the possible need for help.
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