False-Positive Panic On The Rise for New Moms

Jacqueline Burt Cote
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newborn

As if being a new mom wasn't stressful enough! You know those nerve-wracking newborn blood tests that screen for about a zillion different genetic diseases (like cystic fibrosis)? It turns out that about only one in 50 positive tests is accurate. That means there are a whole lotta moms going into panic mode for no reason at all, waiting on pins and needles for the results of follow-up tests that can sometimes take months. Having gone through a similar false-positive experience with my son when he was born, I can tell you that those post-partum hormones aren't designed to cope with such high levels of anxiety. For me, and I'm guessing countless other new moms, an extra dose of sensitivity on the part of hospital staff would've made all the difference in the world.

It wasn't actually a blood test that alarmed the resident pediatrician at the hospital where my son was born, it was a dimple: Not on his cheek, but at the base of his spine, sort of ... a cute little dimple where his backbone ended and his butt began. I'll never forget the look on the resident's face as she inspected my son's tiny little wriggling body. "Hmm," she said. "This dimple here could be a sign that the spinal cavity hasn't completely closed up." Which means?? "Could be spina bifida," she said casually. "We'll schedule an ultrasound."

I spent the next 24 hours alternately sobbing, hyperventilating, and pressing the heck out of that little red button for the nurses to come so I could badger them for answers (poor dears. It wasn't their fault). It wasn't until we were getting ready to sign out that another resident, one I hadn't met before, breezed by the doorway to my room and called out, "Oh, test results are normal!"

I'm all for early detection and I applaud the medical community for their attention to detail. But isn't there some way we can avoid scaring the daylights out of new moms until we know for certain there's a cause for concern? 

Have you ever had a false-positive scare?

 

Image via Bridget Coila/Flickr

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