By Kate Pinney, Tommy’s midwife.
What currently happens?
The NHS offers screening to women 11 to 14 weeks into their pregnancy. At the moment, an ultrasound scan, the mother's age and other factors such as smoking are combined to assess the likelihood of a baby having Down's syndrome.Anyone with a greater than one-in-150 chance of having a baby with Down's is usually offered an amniocentesis, in which a needle is used to extract a sample of amniotic fluid surrounding the foetus to be tested.
What is the new test?
The new test analyses tiny fragments of the baby's DNA that end up in the mother's blood, to look for abnormalities.
The UK National Screening Committee has backed the test, saying it would reduce anxiety for expectant mothers. The move would prevent thousands of invasive procedures, in which one in every 200 women loses her baby.
Last week it was announced that pregnant women in the UK should soon get a safer and more accurate test for Down's syndrome on the NHS, to reduce the risk of miscarriage present in the current procedure. The current procedure to diagnose Down's syndrome is offered when the first screening test that all pregnant women are offered, known as the combined test, comes back as high risk.
What does this mean for parents?
Undergoing genetic screening is a very personal choice that mums-to-be have to make. If parents have a confirmed diagnosis of a genetic condition, then this can mean they are provided with better and more individualised care. It may make a difference to where that woman has her baby, as hospitals have different levels of neonatal care units and specialisms. For example, babies with Down’s syndrome are at higher risk of cardiac abnormalities, and so it’s beneficial for both mother and baby if doctors are aware of this.
While the choice to be screened is personal and always ultimately up to parents, please do discuss your options with your doctor or midwife.
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