Prenatal genetic counselors are medical professionals who provide others with information on genetic disorders and birth defects. These counselors see men and women – either before they decide to become parents, or after they receive news that they may be having a baby with a genetic disorder – to discuss the technical jargon as well as additional testing and treatment options. Genetic counselors can help parents think through the risks in conceiving a baby, or process how they will feel about delivering a baby that needs special care, in a neutral and unbiased way.
Who should consider seeing a prenatal genetic counselor?
Not every couple that’s planning a pregnancy or already expecting needs genetic counseling, but you are always welcome to do so even if you don’t have a clear risk factor. Those at higher risk for conceiving or delivering a baby with a genetic disorder include:
· Women who will be 35 or older on their due date (risk for Down syndrome increases with age)
· Those with a personal or family history (for either parent) of a genetic disorder, birth defect or developmental delay
· Any parent who has tested positive in a genetic carrier screening test
· Those who have had three or more miscarriages without a known cause, a stillbirth or a baby who died as an infant
· Those who have had a positive prenatal screening test (like nuchal translucency,
noninvasive prenatal blood work, or multiple marker screening)
· Those whose ethnic background puts you at higher risk for specific disorders like Tay-Sachs disease or sickle cell disease
What happens at a counseling session?
During a counseling session, you and your partner will be interviewed about your family history—be ready to provide information as far back as you can go. If you have parents or grandparents you can talk to, ask them about anyone in the family who may have been born with a genetic or birth defect and take this information to your appointment. Your counselor will also want to know about any medications the mother is taking so bring these along or include a list with their names, dosages and how often they are taken.
He or she will also help you understand the risk, benefits and limits of
each type of prenatal genetic test available today. If you have already had tests, bring those results with you to the appointment so your counselor can go over them with you and help you better understand them. They will probably make recommendations about additional testing and give you information about where you can have those tests completed.
If you know that you are expecting a baby with a genetic disorder, these counselors can also help you process your feelings and emotions. They may ask you open-ended questions about your feelings and do a lot of listening to help you come to your own conclusions about how to move forward with a pregnancy.