Knowledge Is Power

Pregnancy comes with many hilariou, and not-so-hilarious physical side effects. But something that is seldom discussed openly, is the emotional burden that all pregnant women experience as they wonder if their baby will be born healthy. Catherine Versfeld explains how medical advances in the field of prenatal screening have gone a long way to help ease the fears of mothers-to-be.

Before the common use of ultrasound technology and advances in laboratory testing of blood and tissue samples, all mothers had to spend nine months hoping and praying that their baby would ‘come out okay’. Fortunately, today there are many problems – both major and minor – that can be detected by experienced obstetricians just by looking at your baby’s ultrasound results. But what happens when they do see something and your doctor recommends further testing.   

How Does It Work?

There are three main screening and diagnostic tests available in South Africa:

1. Amniocentesis is done at about 12 weeks of pregnancy and tests the cells found in the amniotic fluid from the womb. Because fluid must be extracted from the womb in order to perform the test, it bears a risk to mother and child.
2. Chorionic-villus sampling (CVS) is also an invasive test that can be performed as early as 10 weeks, where cells taken from the placenta for testing.
3. Ultrasound screening bears no risk to mother or baby, and many things can be identified by looking at the baby in the womb. For example, the chances of Down syndrome can be detected with 80 percent accuracy by looking at the neck fold of the baby and any additional fluid in that area (also known as a nuchal translucency test).  

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