Who Should Consider Prenatal Genetic Counseling?

Posted On: February 25, 2020 By Tamar Goldwaser, MD

It can be exciting to think about your pregnancy plans and starting the family you want. One important thing that to think about is optimizing your baby’s chances of starting off life with a healthy outlook. The reality is that you or your family may be at risk for or have some conditions that can be passed on to your child, so it’s important to both you and your child to test early for these concerns so you can take the right steps. Before you begin trying to get pregnant, you should make sure to speak with your obstetrician about whether genetic counseling is right for you. Here’s what to know about genetic counseling and how it can help.

What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counseling is a process where you and a genetics professional  determine the risks of passing on inheritable conditions to your baby. This usually means assessing your family tree and any concerning conditions that may be present in your relatives and direct ancestors, as well as the risks of recurrence. From there, you may be recommended certain steps to optimize your baby’s chances of being healthy, plan for your baby’s post-natal care, or even to explore other options for starting your family.

Who should seek out genetic counseling?

Genetic counseling is not necessary for every woman who wants to become pregnant. OAbout 3% of babies born in the US each year have a birth defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Your obstetrician can give you the best idea of whether you might be at increased risk to have a baby with a birth defect or other genetic condition and whether you would  benefit from genetic counseling. Generally, you should consider genetic counseling if you or  your partner have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Abnormal results from routine prenatal tests
  • Pregnancy conceived using in vitro fertilization
  • Results from chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis that indicate a chromosomal defect
  • Known carrier for a genetic condition
  • Any inherited diseases present in a close family member
  • An existing child or previous pregnancy affected by a birth defect or genetic disorder
  • The mother is over 35 years old
  • Previous miscarriages or early infant deaths
  • Couples who are close blood relatives
  • Infertility that may have a genetic cause
  • The father has anatomical defects of the vas deferens

Additionally, certain ethnic groups are more likely to be carriers for specific genetic diseases  so knowing your ethnic background from all 4 grandparents is useful when making the decision to opt for genetic counseling. Generally, belonging to ethnic groups like African American, Central or Eastern European Jewish, Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern can mean you should more closely examine your family’s medical history with the help of your maternal fetal medicine specialist.

How should I prepare for genetic counseling?

The best way to prepare for genetic counseling is by ensuring you have a detailed picture of your immediate family’s medical history, as well as your partner’s. This can help your genetic counselor assess the risks of certain conditions. Also, you should be prepared to answer questions like:

  • Do you or your family have any history of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, or twins?
  • Are there any diseases or conditions that run in your family?
  • Have there been any sudden infant deaths or stillbirths in your family
  • Does anyone in your family have genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy or tremors/Parkinsons disease?
  • Does anyone in your family have an intellectual disability or birth defect?
  • Have any women in your family had trouble with their pregnancies?
  • Are your parents healthy and alive?
  • Have you or your close relatives experienced multiple miscarriages?
  • What is your ethnic background?

The more detailed answers you can give for these questions, the more accurately your genetic counselor can estimate your risks of certain conditions. This means it’s important to talk with your family members ahead of time and bring detailed information with you to your appointment.

Schedule an Appointment

Genetic counseling can help you make the best decisions for you and your baby. To learn more about whether genetic counseling is right for you, schedule an appointment with our award-winning team of maternal fetal medicine specialists by contacting our New York City office.

Carnegie Imaging for Women blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!

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