Advertisement

Can prenatal tests detect disabilities in babies?

No prenatal test can guarantee that your child will be born without any health problems or will not develop them later in life. The mostCommon disabling conditions typically don't occur in children, and many conditions cannot be detected by prenatal tests. Prenatal tests cannot at present detect cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, or certain learning, emotional, and behavioral disabilities; nor can they tellYou about traits such as eye color, athleticism, or musical aptitude.

No test can accurately predict exactly how a condition such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell disease, or spina bifida will affect your child. This is true for two very different reasons. First, the biological effects of a condition play out differently in different people. Prenatal tests are not able to tell you exactly what the physical, cognitive, and life-span effects will be for your child.

For example, some children with cystic fibrosis experience significant medical problems and have short lives. However, most people living with cystic fibrosis who follow current treatment guidelines will live at least into their thirties. Although they will likely have some periods of intensive medical therapy, most will also be able to go to school, play with friends, and get jobs. Many people with cystic fibrosis find partners, and some become biological or adoptive parents. Similarly, Down syndrome, the condition for which prenatal testing is most often recommended, can cause a range of impairments. It typically causes intellectual disability and medical problems. Available treatments or surgeries lessen or correct most of the heart, intestinal, and other medical conditions. The possible cognitive impairments range from mild to severe, with only a small percent of affected children having severe mental disabilities. Almost all children with Down syndrome can be expected to participate in school, and many adults will go on to get jobs, form relationships, and live in the community. No prenatal test can tell you whether your developing baby will be seriously or mildly affected with cognitive or medical impairments.

But beyond the varying biology of the conditions, the main reason that a test won't give you as much information as you might like is that knowing your child has Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or spina bifida tells you little or nothing about your child's future interests, talents, appearance, or personality. The test provides only one piece

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO MAKE WISE DECISIONS ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY AND THE BIRTH OF YOUR CHILD -- FROM THE EDITORS OF THE CLASSIC "BIBLE OF WOMEN'S HEALTH" Pregnancy and birth are as ordinary...

Continue Learning about First Prenatal Check-Up

When should I have my first ultrasound during pregnancy?
Intermountain HealthcareIntermountain Healthcare
When our patients get their first positive pregnancy test, we have them come in fairly soon. We try ...
More Answers
What prenatal care do I need in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy?
Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhDDr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Welcome to the second trimester. If you are considering prenatal testing, such as an amniocentesis, ...
More Answers
What are the different types of responses to prenatal test results?
Boston Women's Health Book CollectiveBoston Women's Health Book Collective
When you hear test results, you may feel exhausted, relieved, exhilarated, despairing, joyful, or te...
More Answers
What questions should I consider before prenatal testing?
Deborah Raines, MSNDeborah Raines, MSN
There are two important questions to ask yourself when considering prenatal testing for genetic diso...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.