Why is antenatal testing important

Prenatal diagnostics: what can it do?

The possibility of a disturbance is suppressed by many

Many parents-to-be hope the tests will reassure them. But what if they actually indicate a malfunction? "This situation is sure to be suppressed by many women," says Professor Annegret Geipel, head of the prenatal medicine department at the Bonn University Hospital. In around five percent of the embryos examined, the first trimester screening reveals abnormal findings.

At least not so long ago, there was a great deal of ignorance about the suppression: Although 85 percent of all pregnant women had a prenatal diagnostic examination carried out, around half did not know the term or understood something wrong with it, as a survey by the Federal Center for Health Education in 2006 showed. For example, many believed that prenatal diagnostics are important in order to cure a possible disease before birth.

In the case of diagnosis, pregnancy is usually terminated

But that is only the case in exceptional cases. Most disorders found through PND cannot be corrected or treated prenatally. "This is especially true for chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome," Geipel cites a relatively common example. Around nine out of ten mothers decide to terminate the pregnancy in such a diagnosis. "But if you do not want to do that, you do not need to do appropriate examinations in principle - there is also a right not to know," says the gynecologist.

In addition, however, there are far more practical consequences from a prenatal diagnosis, as the expert emphasizes: "With certain heart defects, it is important to know before the birth in order to be able to treat quickly afterwards and to avoid complications." Other rare malformations such as a diaphragmatic hernia also require good preparation for the birth. Even in the case of uncorrectable damage, some parents would like to have prior knowledge in order to adjust mentally, as the doctor reports: "They don't break off, but want to know beforehand exactly what is in store for them."

Good education before the tests is important

In order to clarify such relationships, expectant mothers have had to be informed about PND and advised on certain points for a number of years. "The doctor should make it clear what is being searched for and what a possibly conspicuous or positive result would mean," summarizes Annegret Geipel. The doctor must also provide information about the risks of certain examinations - for example about the risk of miscarriage from an amniotic fluid puncture. Attention should also be drawn to the possibility of psychosocial counseling.

"At the beginning, that happens much less often than we would like," says Claudia Heinkel, head of the department for information, education and advice on prenatal diagnostics at Diakonie W├╝rttemberg in Stuttgart. Most of them would only be offered such an offer if there was an abnormal finding and they had to make a decision for or against continuing the pregnancy. "It would be in the interest of the parents-to-be if they learned about this counseling service at an early stage and could clarify beforehand: What do we even want to know? What do we do if there is a possible abnormal finding?", Says the Protestant pastor , Qualified pedagogue and systemic therapist. "We openly point out the possibility of an abortion," says Annegret Geipel. "Life with a severely disabled or terminally ill child can undoubtedly be a heavy burden."

There are no precise figures on how prenatal diagnostics affect the number of dropouts in Germany. In Denmark, after the introduction of a prenatal screening for Down syndrome, the number of children born with this disorder has halved in just a few years.