The Side Effects of Genetic Testing

Jacqueline Burt Cote
7

pregnant woman behind curtainI've often wondered what pregnancy was like for my mother's generation, and the generations before that. It used to be expectant moms didn't even have the choice of finding out whether their baby was going to be a girl or a boy, never mind analyzing the odds that their baby might have one of the zillions of genetic defects we test for today, from Down syndrome to sickle cell anemia to cystic fibrosis. I'm betting those nine months were a lot less stressful for women back then than they are now, when a major side effect of genetic testing can cast a black cloud over the rest of your pregnancy experience.

What's the side effect? Worry. Endless, all-consuming worry.

Don't get me wrong -- if your doctor recommends genetic testing, then get it done. But more and more couples are going off on their own, without their doctor's advice, to have what's called DTC genetic testing (Direct to Consumer), and I don't think it's a good idea.

These aren't even necessarily parents with histories of genetic diseases in their own families; often, their goal is simply to ease some of the nagging fears everyone experiences while waiting for baby. Unfortunately, DTC genetic testing isn't always accurate (no type of genetic testing is), and without a caring OB to help decipher the results, people can end up thinking the worst, drowning in anxiety when they should be decorating the nursery ... only to find that there was never anything wrong in the first place.

Again, if you have a family history of any genetic diseases, then yes, I can see why the screenings would make sense (I'm not even going anywhere near the topic of termination here; there are some abnormalities that doctors like to be prepared to fix immediately after birth, so it helps to know ahead of time). But remember that exhaustive form you got a hand cramp filling out on your first visit to the doctor, the one that wanted to know everything from your grandmother's shoe size to your fifth cousin's eye color? Your OB is already checking that thing over for red flags, so you don't have to play back-up patrol.

No matter what, the best thing for you and your baby is to stay as calm, rested, and positive as possible. You might not know for certain what's down the road, but freaking out about it now certainly isn't going to help.

Would you get DTC genetic testing, or just take your doctor's advice?

 

Image via Jennifer Monson/Flickr

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