Your pregnancy and baby guide

If antenatal screening tests find something

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

If your screening test gives you a higher-chance result that your baby has a condition, 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're 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 you're 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.

ARC helpline

You can contact the charity Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC), which has information about screening tests and how you might feel if you are told your baby has, 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. Calls to the helpline are answered by trained staff, who can offer information and support.

Next steps

The next step after a higher-chance screening result, or if a suspected problem is found, can be to decide whether to have a diagnostic test. A dianostic test can tell for certain whether or not your baby has a condition.

For example, if you get a higher-chance (sometimes called 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 0.5 to 1 in 100. This means that if 100 pregnant women have amniocentesis or CVS, up to 1 woman will have a miscarriage as a result.

For some physical abnormalities suspected in the baby, 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 be life-limiting, 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 until she or he is born.

Making a decision to end or continue your pregnancy

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 supporting and talking with women about screening results and helping them come to a decision about whether or not they want to 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.

Find out more about conditions

You can find out more information from:

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

Page last reviewed: 30/11/2017
Next review due: 30/11/2020