What you need to know
Prenatal testing

You may want every prenatal test in the book or choose to skip some. Either way, it's important to understand results and what they may — or may not — mean for you and your baby.

True or false?

What's the difference between prenatal tests?

Prenatal screenings — such as those for Down syndrome and Spina Bifida markers — are routinely offered to pregnant women regardless of health history or if they or the father or donor have risks for certain genetic diseases.

Prenatal diagnostic tests — such as amniocentesis or high level ultrasounds — are usually offered if a screening shows an increased likelihood of fetal abnormality. These tests can actually diagnose certain birth defects.

To take or not take: Prenatal testing>>

What do positive or negative prenatal test results mean for me and my baby?

According to the California Department of Health Genetic Disease Screening Program, a positive result means there is a higher than usual chance for some birth defects. The key word is chance — it doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem.

Your doctor or midwife may offer diagnostic testing such as amniocentesis or a more in-depth ultrasound. These tests can help confirm if your baby has the health issue you were screened for, but an amnio carries a risk of miscarriage so you'll have another choice to make — have the test or take a wait-and-see approach.

A negative result means your baby probably does not have one of the birth defects she was screened for — but provides no guarantees that your baby may not have health issues that can't be screened during pregnancy.

Ingrid A. Rodi, M.D., associate clinical professor of OB-GYN at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, explains, "Screening tests, by definition, cast a wide net. That means that for non-invasive first trimester screening, women will be given the odds of having a problem. If the risk of having a fetus with a problem is greater than a certain number, say 1 percent, the woman might opt to have more testing, in some cases invasive testing. Of course, a woman who is told that her fetus has a 1 percent chance of having a problem, will have 99 percent chance of being fine."

Learn why amnio isn't the only option>>

Is it worth the worry?

Pregnancy can be stressful enough without worrying if something may be wrong, and sometimes waiting for prenatal test results is the hardest part. Rodi says, "Some results can come back in a few days, others require 10 to 14 days."

Be sure to talk things over with your healthcare provider and that you understand the potential benefits, risks and alternatives to prenatal testing including what results may mean for you and your baby.

More about prenatal testing

Accurate and non-invasive prenatal testing
Understanding the AFP test
I wish I hadn't known: The ups and downs of prenatal testing

Tags: amniocentesis

recommended for you