One of the first questions that comes to a parent's mind upon learning of their pregnancy is, "Will my baby be healthy?" That same question is pondered over again and again throughout the entire pregnancy. The health of a baby is worried over until the much awaited bundle of joy is placed in the arms of the smiling parents screaming his or her head off, fingers and toes are counted and the doctor gives the official thumbs up.
Most women begin their journey to ensure the healthiest outcome of a pregnancy possible by seeking out a medical specialist. It's likely that the doctor chosen will reassure the expecting mother that even though the stages of development from conception to delivery is rather complicated, the odds of having a healthy baby is at about 96%. Still, most pregnant women fear that they will fall within that unfortunate 4%.
Your concerns will be addressed based upon your medical history, the outcomes of any past pregnancies (if there have been any), your overall health and the initial laboratory tests that will probably be given at your first prenatal appointment.
In the 1980s more than the assurance of your doctor became available through the means of prenatal testing to any woman who wanted to know the health of her unborn fetus. Although not all birth defects or health issues of an unborn baby can be detected through prenatal testing, many can.
Often times anxiety alone prompts a mother to have prenatal testing done. Once prenatal test results indicate a perfectly healthy pregnancy, a sigh of relief can be had and focus can be placed more upon the happiness related to the pregnancy than health issues.
While the majority of prenatal testing shows a healthy pregnancy and fetus, sometimes the tests indicate a problem. Being able to detect health concerns prior to birth allows the doctor to determine the absolute best care a fetus will require before delivery as well as special care a baby may need at birth. For example, if prenatal tests indicate the fetus suffers from spina bifida a cesarean birth (sometimes referred to as a C-Section Delivery) will almost certainly be the best option. A C-section delivery minimizes the harm done to the exposed nerves on the infant's back whereas vaginal delivery would be much more damaging.
Other disorders may require the mother seeing a specialist who is better equipped to handle the special care needed during pregnancy. Sometimes, it is only required that the specialist is there during actual delivery to treat the baby immediately. This alone often gives the baby the absolute best chance at survival along with less health complications. For example, if prenatal testing suggests that the baby will be born with a heart defect, it is usually preferable for delivery to occur at a medical facility that does neonatal heart surgeries rather than at a local hospital. Were the mother to deliver at a local hospital or medical center that is not equipped to deal with such medical emergencies, the hospital would transport the infant to a more advanced hospital at birth. Precious time is lost and the rate of survival would drop tremendously.
Rare conditions; such as Rh incompatibility, is often treated in the uterus. Rh incompatibility may occur when a mother is Rh negative and the father is Rh positive. In most cases, the baby inside her will be Rh positive. Were the mother and the blood of the fetus to mix, the mother's body would react to the baby as if it were a foreign object; creating antibodies to destroy the fetus. The blood of the mother and the fetus is most likely to intertwine during delivery.
In most first pregnancies, Rh incompatibility does not become a problem. The potential of Rh compatibility creating a serious concern grows with each additional pregnancy.
If prenatal testing indicates an Rh negative factor, the mother will be monitored very closely throughout the pregnancy.
When prenatal testing confirm a health issue such as a severe birth defect, it allows the parents, family, friends, doctors and others involved time to prepare themselves and their homes for the challenges that will lie ahead.
Some couples decide to terminate a pregnancy when prenatal testing indicates a serious health complication in the fetus. Early diagnosis through prenatal testing allows for the termination to be much less complicated than later term terminations as well as posing a lower health risk to the mother.
Personal and religious reasons are sometimes given by couples who decide to not have prenatal testing. In most cases, the parents of the fetus have already decided that whether negative or positive, the prenatal test results would not affect their decision to carry on a pregnancy. The majority feel that prenatal test results would not change the manner in which they would seek health care, deliver or prepare for the birth of their child. In the opinion of these parents, prenatal testing would only cause anxiety during throughout the pregnancy; causing more harm than good.
Each couple must weigh both the benefits of prenatal testing against the negative aspects of testing.
One pregnant couple may decide prenatal testing is the option for them as they have found an effective prenatal technology that will provide them the information that they need. This information will help the doctor create a better health plan that will give the fetus the best chance for optimal health as well as help the parents make better, informed decisions.
Another couple may decide against the prenatal testing or any tests during pregnancy. Again, this decision is often based on their religious views or because of the anxiety that test results could bring.
Many couples find that they change their mind throughout a pregnancy during the testing process. One moment prenatal testing seems to be exactly what parents want to do and the next they decide against it. Doctors certainly expect this from their patients and will generally not try to force the issue of prenatal testing either way. All doctors should; however, discuss both sides of the issue with their patients to ensure an informed decision is being made.
Serious birth defects are very rare. This should be reassuring to pregnant couples. Since some couples have a higher than average risk of passing along specific birth defects or disorders that are inherited, those couples will be advised more strongly on the benefits associated with prenatal testing. When special risks are found, additional prenatal tests that are specific to the concerns of the situation are likely to be offered.