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The SOGC Provides Health-Care Professionals With Advice On Counselling Patients About Prenatal Screening

Featured in the May edition of the is a new guide to help doctors, nurses and midwives counsel their patients about prenatal genetic screening.

One of the greatest sources of stress for is their concern about the health of their baby. While prenatal screening can help provide parents with some insight into the condition of the foetus the mother is carrying, expectations must be carefully managed. Counseling considerations for prenatal genetic screening is designed to facilitate this important discussion between health-care providers and their patients.

All have some chance of having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality (having too many, too few or defective ) or a neural tube defect (problem with the brain or spinal cord development).

While prenatal screening does not detect whether or not there are defective chromosomes or too few of them, a mother can have tests done to assess the risk that her baby has extra chromosomes (trisomies) 18 or 21. These tests are commonly referred to as prenatal genetic testing. The screening processes essentially consist of gathering data from ultrasounds and samples of a woman’s blood to be tested for signs of certain conditions. These tests are intended to identify women who are at increased risk of having a child with an anomaly.

“The results of prenatal tests should not be considered a diagnosis. They only provide parents with an indication of the likelihood/chances that their baby may have a condition,” said Dr. , one of the principal authors of the new committee opinion and member of the SOGC’s Genetics Committee.

Because prenatal screening is voluntary, it is critical for health-care professionals to ensure that their patients understand the different types of prenatal tests that exist, which ones are available in their community, what the procedures consist of, how “positive” or “negative” results should be interpreted, and how these results can be used to support the decision-making process with respect to the management of a pregnancy.

Before proceeding with prenatal screening, should carefully consider how they would make use of the results obtained from the tests.Would it affect their decision to proceed with a pregnancy? Would it help them plan for the birth of a baby that may require special care? Would it reduce or increase maternal stress during the pregnancy? Only answers to these questions will help determine if couples should proceed with prenatal genetic testing.

Dr. Murphy-Kaulbeck added that “Prospective parents must be realistic about what prenatal screening can offer them. They, in return, must be clear about what they would do with the information once they receive it. Our role as health-care professionals is to provide patients with the counseling and support they need to make informed decisions throughout the pregnancy.”


Source: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada