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Tests for your health and your child’s

If you’re considering getting pregnant, you may have mixed feelings. While it’s exciting to welcome a new baby, it’s also natural to feel overwhelmed. You want to ensure your baby is healthy throughout your pregnancy and after birth—especially if they’re at risk for genetic disorders. 

Genetic disorders like sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs disease, and muscular dystrophy can all pass to your baby if you have any of the genetic risk factors.

“People who have genetic disorders or who have family members with genetic disorders are sometimes hesitant to have children because they’re worried they will pass on the disease,” said W. Andrew Faucett, a professor in genomic medicine who directs community engagement and public education for Geisinger’s MyCode Community Health Initiative. “Genetic counseling services can determine if your child is at risk for genetic disorders and provide support along the way and help you prepare for the birth of a child with special needs.”

What genetic counselors do
Genetic counselors help people understand how birth defects, genes and medical conditions run in families. You can undergo genetic counseling before or during a pregnancy. A genetic counselor will help you interpret the results of genetic tests (like blood tests) and help you make decisions about your pregnancy and how to best care for your child. 

“Genetic counselors can help you understand the chances of your baby having a genetic condition,” said Faucett. “They can answer medical questions, provide education and resources and also provide emotional support. Genetic counselors help people adapt and prepare for any risks or conditions.” 

Conditions like Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, cleft palate and heart defects can all be identified during pregnancy. By identifying these conditions, it is possible to begin treatments early and create therapy strategies.

Besides finding pregnancy risks, genetic counseling can help you assess your own health risks. Test results can tell if you’re at an increased risk for heart disease or certain cancers. For example, tests can find genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2, both of which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

Here are five reasons that genetic counseling may be right for you.

You or a relative has an inherited disease 
Genetic diseases are common in some families and ethnic groups. If you or a family member has an inherited disease, genetic counseling can help you understand your risk of inheriting or passing on the disease.

“Not all diseases are inherited the same way,” said Faucett. “It’s possible to have a genetic disease that does not pass to your children. Likewise, it’s possible that you and your partner could be carrying genes for a genetic disorder and not even know it. Genetic counseling helps you understand the risks of passing on a condition and educates you about caring for a child with a genetic condition.”

You’re over 35 and considering having a child
People 35 and older are at risk of certain genetic disorders if they get pregnant.

“Studies show that people who are 35 years old or older are more likely to have a child with a genetic disorder than younger people,” said Faucett. “Autism and Down syndrome are two examples of conditions that appear to be linked to increased parent age.”

You’ve had a child with a genetic disorder
If you’ve already had a child with a genetic disorder, you may be wondering if your next child will have one, too.

Since genetic inheritance patterns can be complicated, genetic counselors can help parents understand the chances of another child having a similar (or different) genetic disorder.

You’ve had abnormal prenatal test results
During pregnancy, your doctors will do tests to monitor how your baby is growing and developing. During these tests, they may get readings that are abnormal. In this case, they may recommend you see a genetic counselor.

Through genetic testing, genetic counselors can identify disorders and even recommend early treatments. 

You’ve had a previous miscarriage or lost a child
If you’ve had two miscarriages or had a child pass away, your doctor may recommend genetic counseling. By using genetic tests and medical information from your previous pregnancies, your genetic counselor can help assess your risk in future pregnancies.

If you’re interested in genetic counseling, talk to your doctor. They can recommend a counselor that suits your needs.

Get answers you can trust to your pregnancy and childbirth questions at www.geisinger.org/mypregnancy.
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