If your health history or a prenatal screening test reveals a possible risk to your baby, your OB or midwife will recommend genetic counseling to get information about possible concerns with your pregnancy.
Our genetic counselors are masters-level experts in genetics, but also people who are skilled in explaining the complex and sometimes confusing area of genetic medicine in terms that are easy for you to understand.
What is genetic counseling?
Our genetic counselors are here to:
- Explain testing options, along with potential risks
- Address the complex emotional implications of genetic conditions, testing options and screening
- Coordinate appropriate genetic testing and screening
- Help you adapt to the testing results and provide emotional support and understanding
What happens during a genetic consultation?
During your consultation, your genetic counselor will:
- Take a pregnancy history and a detailed, directed family history.
- Discuss the chances of having a baby with a birth defect based on your ethnic background, family histories, the mother's age and pregnancy history, the results of any blood tests or ultrasounds plus any medication or infection exposures.
- Review all the options for learning about the baby's health before birth, including tests such as ultrasound, blood tests, specialized genetic tests, chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis when indicated.
- Make sure you understand the benefits and disadvantages of the different prenatal tests and what kind of information is learned about your baby's health from each test.
- Help you make decisions about prenatal testing that are informed and appropriate for you and your family.
- Help you understand how the pregnancy and your baby's health will be affected by any birth defect or genetic condition that is diagnosed.
Your genetic counselor will present a summary of all the options available. It's your choice to have no future testing, proceed to diagnostic testing, or take further diagnostic tests to refine the risk.
There is no right or wrong answer, only the best answer for your family. Your genetic counselor will focus on the importance of individual choice based on the experiences, morals and viewpoints of you and your family.
For more information, and to best prepare you for a discussion with your provider, please first watch this video, created by our own genetic counselors.
When to get genetic counseling
Genetic counseling is not necessary for the majority of pregnancies. It should be considered by couples who have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Abnormal results from routine prenatal testing
- Amniocentesis results which identify a chromosomal defect
- An inherited disease present in a close family member
- A child with either a birth defect or genetic disorder
- Prior pregnancies that ended in miscarriage or the baby died in infancy
- The mother is over 35 years old
- The mother or father is a member of an ethnic group that has a great chance of certain genetic defects, such as African Americans (sickle cell anemia), Central or Eastern European Jews (Tay-Sachs disease) or people of Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern descent (thalassemia)
If you have any of these risk factors, you may consider genetic testing before you decide to get pregnant.