Pregnancy and baby

If antenatal screening tests find a possible problem

Most antenatal screening tests will not find anything wrong, but there is a chance you will be told there is a possible problem.

If your screening test gives you a higher-risk result or finds a possible problem, it can be very upsetting. You might feel a range of emotions, such as confusion, anger, fear and loneliness. You may feel grief for the loss of your hopes for a healthy baby, and sadness for the baby who may have a problem.

You may think that nobody will understand what you are going through, and may even blame yourself, your partner or the doctors. These are all normal reactions and you don't have to go through them alone.

There is always support available for parents, whether it's from a doctor, midwife or specialised support group. It's important that you are given as much information and help as soon as possible.

Get as much information as you can

It can help to find out all you can about the condition or problem your baby may have.

You can talk to your doctor, midwife or consultant about this and ask any questions that are on your mind.

Your midwife or doctor will explain what the screening results mean, and discuss your choices and options with you. Your midwife can arrange for you to be put in touch with specialist doctors or support groups.

When you go for your scan or meet with your doctor or midwife to discuss the results, you might want to take your partner or a friend with you for support. They can help listen and remember what's said. Write down any questions you want to ask and don't be afraid to ask them.

You can also contact the charity Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC). ARC has information about screening tests and how you might feel if you are told your baby does have, or might have, a problem.

The charity has a helpline that can be reached on 0845 077 2290, or 020 7713 7486 from a mobile, Monday to Friday, 10am-5.30pm. The helpline is answered by trained staff, who can offer information and support.

Next steps

The next step after a higher-risk screening result, or if a suspected problem is found, can be to decide whether to have a diagnostic test.

For example, if you get a higher-risk screening result for Down's syndrome, or if you and your partner are found to be carriers of sickle cell or thalassemia, you will be offered amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS).

Both of these diagnostic tests carry a risk of miscarriage of around 1 in 100. This means that if 100 pregnant women have amniocentesis or CVS, one woman will have a miscarriage as a result.

For some foetal abnormalities, the diagnostic test may involve further scans carried out by a specialist. If you are offered a diagnostic test, think about what it would mean to you to find out for certain whether the baby has the condition.

Some conditions are very serious, and can even be fatal, while others may require surgery or other treatment for the baby. In some cases, it can be impossible to tell how seriously the condition may affect your baby.

After a diagnostic test, you may be faced with a decision about whether to continue with the pregnancy or end the pregnancy with a termination (abortion). This can be a very difficult decision. You may find that you feel differently about it from one day to the next, and this is normal.

Don't feel you have to make this decision on your own. Your consultant and midwife can talk to you about your decision, and the charity ARC can also offer support.

ARC has many years' experience of talking with women about screening results and helping them decide whether or not they should continue with a pregnancy.

The charity is non-directional, which means they will not pressure you to make a decision either way. The ARC helpline staff will help you to think through your options, and help you make the decision that is right for you and your family.

Whatever you decide, your healthcare professionals will support you. Find out more information about termination for foetal abnormality.

Further information

You can find out more information from:

healthtalk.org has videos and written interviews with people talking about their experience of antenatal screening. These include being told something might be wrong and deciding whether to have diagnostic tests:

Page last reviewed: 25/02/2015

Next review due: 25/02/2017

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Amniocentesis

Amniocentesis is a diagnostic test carried out during pregnancy

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