Frequently Asked Questions About Prenatal Genetic Counseling

Expecting couples have the option of prenatal genetic testing. Prenatal testing can help soon-to-be parents uncover the risk that their child may be born with a certain genetic condition. If you decide to undergo prenatal testing, your doctor may also recommend that you start seeing a genetic counselor. Here are some commonly asked questions regarding prenatal genetic counseling.

What is Genetic Counseling?

Genetic counseling accompanies the process of prenatal genetic testing and provides a space for couples to understand test results, cope with these results, and understand the implications of certain genetic conditions.

What Do Genetic Counselors Do?

Genetic counselors are medical professionals that are specially trained in medical genetics and counseling. They work with both individuals and couples to help determine their personal risk of having a child with certain genetic disorders.

If there is a high risk that the child will be born with a genetic condition, genetic counselors discuss options for prenatal screening and testing with the parents. If the couple has received a positive test result and their child has been diagnosed with a certain disorder, they may wish to discuss future fertility options, such as IVF, with the genetic counselor.

Why Work With a Genetic Counselor?

Some couples will have an increased risk that their child may develop a certain condition. You may want to consider working with a genetic counselor if:

You, your partner, or an immediate family has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder

You or your partner have previously had a child with a genetic condition

You have received an abnormal result from a first-trimester screening test

You or your partner received a positive result from a genetic carrier screening test

You’ll be 35 years or older at the time of birth (women only)

You’re concerned that you might have a child with a genetic condition, and you’d like to know more about prenatal genetic screening and testing

What Kinds of Prenatal Tests do Genetic Counselors Work With?

Carrier screening is a blood test that determines whether an individual has a genetic mutation that can be passed onto his/her children. This test can be done either before or during pregnancy.

Noninvasive prenatal genetic testing is a blood test performed during pregnancy using a blood sample from the mother. Results from this screening test are used to determine the risk that the child may have a certain genetic disorder. This test can be performed starting as early as week 10 in pregnancy.

Diagnostic testing will be recommended if results from a prenatal screening test show a high risk of a genetic condition. Either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) may be recommended, depending on the specific condition in question. These tests provide a diagnosis and can be performed between weeks 10 and 20 of pregnancy, depending on the test performed.

How Can I Find a Genetic Counselor?

Your doctor may recommend a genetic counselor who specializes in a specific genetic condition. Additionally, the National Society of Genetic Counselors provides a useful tool to help you find a genetic counselor in your area.