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Genetic testing is often looked upon with suspicion by parents-to-be. However, this stigma often shields parents from being able to benefit from the information that genetic testing provides. Genetic testing is a medical advance, and parents should educate themselves on and consider the value of the additional knowledge a genetic test can give their journey into parenthood.
What is a genetic test?
A genetic test is any test that uses DNA to provide information about a person’s chromosomes or genetics. Genetic testing can be used for anything from detecting birth defects to determining identity; however, for pregnant women, DNA testing is usually used to determine chromosomal abnormalities in the pregnancy.
When many think of the types of genetic tests completed during a pregnancy, they think about highly invasive procedures such as an amniocentesis. However, there are less invasive and noninvasive prenatal DNA tests available to interested parents.
What are chromosomal abnormalities?
Chromosomes contain our genetic information and are passed from parents to children and throughout generations. To pass our genetic material, or DNA, on to our children, chromosomes replicate. When a chromosome is missing or doesn’t replicate properly, chromosomal abnormalities, often responsible for birth defects, form.
Some of the most common chromosomal abnormalities are trisomies. Trisomies occur when a chromosome doesn’t replicate properly, and produces 3 instead of 2 replications. Trisomies 21, 18, and 13 are the most common. Of these three, trisomy 21, which is responsible for Down syndrome, is the most common. Trisomy 18 is responsible for Edwards syndrome and trisomy 13 is responsible for Patau syndrome, and these trisomies result in much more devastating birth defects than trisomy 21 does.
Who should consider genetic testing?
Individuals experiencing at-risk pregnancies should have a prenatal DNA test. Women with at-risk pregnancies who should definitely seek out prenatal DNA testing are those who have a familial history of chromosomal abnormalities or those who are 35 years of age or older.
Because some chromosomal abnormalities are hereditary, it is highly important for couples with a family history of genetic abnormalities to have a prenatal DNA test. Women who are 35 years and older are also at a heightened risk for having a child with chromosomal abnormalities simply because as we age our genes are more likely to mutate. Although at-risk pregnancies are more likely to be recommended for prenatal DNA testing, all pregnancies can benefit from testing.
For many mothers-to-be, the stress of worrying about a child’s health can be enough to prompt her to have a prenatal DNA test. Additional and excessive stress can actually harm the health of your pregnancy. If you find yourself constantly worrying over your child’s health, consider gaining a peace of mind by having a genetic test completed.
How will genetic testing benefit my family?
A prenatal DNA test is a great way for a family to preemptively learn about the health of their child. Should a family learn that their child will have special needs before the child is born, parents can plan accordingly. They may seek out additional resources and support, take specialty parenting classes, and even establish a birthing environment more suited for their child’s needs. By knowing in advance, parents can choose to be less stressed and more successful, which ultimately allows their child to be more successful in spite of any disabilities.
Genetic testing empowers parents to be the best and most informed parents they can be. Learning to be a parent is already difficult and challenging. By knowing in advance about any additional needs a child may have, parents can create a safer and more loving home for their child.