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The Pros and Cons of Prenatal Testing

In India, birth defects account for the fifth largest reason for the death of newborns. That is, 1 to 3 out of 100 babies have birth defects, which accounts for 27 million babies born with congenital defects every year. Globally, congenital defects affect 2 to 3% of births. What causes these defects is still unknown, though there are risk factors like maternal infection, high fever, smoking, taking drugs and drinking alcohol. But the major proportion of these defects is because of the interaction of certain parents’ genes, the age of the mother, environmental factors and health issues like diabetes. The good news, however, is that there are a few tests that can help determine these defects. Read below to learn the pros and cons of prenatal testing.

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What is Prenatal Testing?

Prenatal testing is a type of testing that gives the doctor a view of the development of the foetus. It is also done to screen for specific genetic issues. It can help in identifying birth defects or pregnancy complications at the earliest possible time. Though there is no test that guarantees a healthy baby, prenatal tests can be lifesaving for the baby and the mother. There are two categories of prenatal testing:

Screening Tests

These are tests that are done to detect abnormalities using urinalysis, blood tests and ultrasound. This helps to monitor the progress of the baby’s development and also determine potential infections or disorders. Even a blood draw done during an antenatal profile test can provide massive genetic data. If the conception is through the traditional route, these results, along with risk factors like family history, mother’s age, ethnic background, etc., are used to calculate the odds of the foetus being born with genetic defects like sickle cell anaemia, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs diseases. There are no risks to the foetus or the mother from doing these tests and the accuracy rate or detection rate is high due to advancements in technology.

The latest in screening tests is NIPT testing. It is the most accurate test for chromosomal abnormalities. It is used to determine sex chromosome abnormalities, Trisomy 18, the Rh factor and Down Syndrome with greater accuracy.

Prenatal Diagnostic Tests

A prenatal diagnosis gives a definite answer to whether the baby has a genetic disorder. These are invasive tests that require cells or tissues and can also help in finding chromosomal disorders that screening tests cannot find. There are three common diagnostic tests which are Chorionic Villus Sampling, CVS; Amniocentesis and Percutaneous Umbilical Blood Sampling (PUBS).

Pros and Cons of Genetic Testing

The advantages or disadvantages of genetic testing are, to a certain extent, dependent on how effective the results are. It is also partially dependent on the ethical and social issues surrounding it, along with psychological, moral and religious aspects surrounding it. Here are some of the pros and cons of genetic testing.

Pros of Genetic Testing

Correct problems before the delivery

Prenatal testing helps in determining various genetic disorders and some of these, when detected early, can be corrected before the baby’s birth. So the baby can be born in good health with no risk of problems in the future. So once it is known that there is a genetic defect, the doctors can treat the baby as soon as possible. Even in cases where the correction cannot happen in the womb, surgery can be conducted post-delivery.

Allows parents to prepare

The results that are obtained from prenatal diagnostic tests help the parents prepare themselves for the future care and nurturing of a baby that is born with genetic defects. They can prepare for how to handle the situation by gathering information from various sources.

Parents get to choose

The results of prenatal diagnostic testing are important as they give the parents the choice to continue the pregnancy or terminate it medically. If the genetic disorder is one that majorly affects the quality of life, parents can decide on the future of the foetus. Cons of Genetic Testing Ethical

Some people consider terminating an unborn child unethical. The same yardstick is used even for babies with genetic abnormalities. Many religions also believe that only God has the right to take life and a human cannot make such decisions.


The biggest con of prenatal testing is the psychological pressure that parents have to go through after finding unfavourable results. From the beginning of the test, parents are concerned about the results. They are also confused and get depressed, even if the baby is carrying a mutated gene. The parents may not realise that the baby may not have the genetic disorder despite carrying it. Then there is also the question related to the accuracy of the test results. Many times, there can be false positives as well as false negatives, which leads to many psychological issues.


In a country like India, where regular checkups are also a luxury for many pregnant women, prenatal testing adds to the expense. Prenatal testing is expensive and is not for people who cannot afford it. Even if you have health insurance, only a few of them cover the expense of prenatal tests. So many couples have to give up the option of prenatal testing.

Also Read : Prenatal Counselling - How it can help you through pregnancy


Prenatal testing is not a requirement and is a personal choice. While there are many who prefer to not know for various reasons, there are many who like to know if the baby has any genetic defects. Though not all defects can be avoided or detected, it gives parents a chance to mitigate the severity, prepare for the future or determine whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy. That is a remarkable choice to have!


1. How is prenatal testing done?

Many prenatal tests are done during the entire pregnancy. It includes urine tests, blood tests, ultrasound, foetal DNA testing, Amniocentesis, glucose testing and more.

2. What is a prenatal screening test for?

Prenatal testing is of two types: Screening and Diagnostic testing. Screening tests are done to find birth defects that can be genetic diseases. Diagnostic testing is done to determine whether the foetus has certain birth defects or genetic conditions.

3. How accurate is prenatal testing?

The prenatal testing results are not completely accurate. There can be false negatives as well as false positives.

4. Can a prenatal DNA test be wrong?

The probability of paternity percentage is 99% or higher. With advanced technology, the results have become so accurate that, paternity testing from an accredited lab is accepted in courts.

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