For many couples, conceiving a baby can come as a surprise. For others, significant prenatal planning is used to determine when they hope to conceive.
Either way, it can be easy to miss critical details like the importance of clinical screening concerning conception. For individuals who are ready to make a transition into parenthood, taking the following steps can help lay the foundation for a healthy pregnancy.
Prenatal Planning for New Parents
Engage Your Doctor
When aspiring parents decide the time is right to conceive, it is essential to schedule a time to talk to a woman’s primary gynecological provider. The Centers for Disease Control highly encourages scheduling this kind of visit so that the provider can provide professional counsel on the factors that can help expedite the conception process and promote a healthy start. These may include:
- Dietary changes, such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake
- Smoking cessation
- Achieving a healthy weight
- Modifications to current medications
- Options for genetic carrier screening
- Understanding Carrier Screening
Genetic carrier screening is often recommended when planning for conception. This is a common practice that can be used to identify the risk for certain genetic conditions. Things like cystic fibrosis may be screened for during screening.
As a recessive genetic disorder, cystic fibrosis appears only if two copies of an abnormal gene – one from each parent – are inherited.
Adults with only one inherited copy of an abnormal gene for cystic fibrosis are known as genetic carriers. This means that they have no signs, symptoms, or diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, and they are often unaware that they carry a gene for the disease.
When carrier status for cystic fibrosis or other inherited abnormalities is unknown, genetic carrier screening may be offered. The DNA of the female is typically tested first. If the result is positive, the male will also have his DNA tested. If both individuals test positive for a recessive genetic disorder, their child will have a 25% chance of developing the disease.
For Couples Who are Already Expecting
Having an understanding of one’s genetic profile ahead of conception can reduce the risk of potential medical complications for a baby during gestation and after delivery. Luckily, carrier screenings can still be performed for women who are already expecting. This is an important step in your prenatal planning.
In addition to carrier screenings, expectant mothers can also seek to partake in prenatal genetic testing for fetal chromosomal abnormalities.
The most common chromosomal disorders fall under the category of trisomy disorders, in which an extra copy of a chromosome is inherited by the embryo during fertilization.
The most recognized trisomy is Down syndrome, also called trisomy 21 because it results from three copies of chromosome 21.
While this condition is compatible with fetal viability, full-term delivery, and quality of life, others are not. Trisomy 13 and trisomy 18 both severely impair development and often lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing
Due to modern medical advances, non-invasive prenatal testing is available to expectant mothers. This type of testing only requires a small blood sample. A patient’s provider can order this testing as early as ten weeks into her pregnancy.
The physician will often receive results approximately a week later. Results can give physicians and parents-to-be information about the overall fetal risk of trisomy and sex chromosome abnormalities.
In addition to identifying abnormalities, non-invasive prenatal testing can allow a parent to learn the fetal gender of their child as well.
There are many things to consider when preparing for parenthood. It is wise for individuals who are planning on conceiving to talk to medical professionals early in the process to ensure the best possible outcomes for a healthy pregnancy. A little of prenatal planning can oftentimes make a big difference.