While the CDC reports almost 15 percent of all U.S. babies -- or 1 in 7 -- were born in 2010 to women 35 and over, much tongue-clucking persists about women waiting to have a baby at "advanced maternal age." The reason may stem from data that shows certain risks (such as having a baby with Down syndrome) can increase with age. However, many women are happily embracing motherhood later on.
That said, certain tests and procedures are often recommended for women over 35. Here, 5 prenatal protocols these expectant moms may want to consider and what "older" moms who've been through them say about their experience.
1. Amniocentesis: This prenatal test aims to detect risk of Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs, and similar diseases. A small amount of amniotic fluid is removed from the sac surrounding the fetus for testing. The sample is removed through a fine needle inserted into the uterus through the abdomen, using ultrasound guidance. "This invasive test results in almost perfect results of fetal chromosomes," explains Dr. Alyssa Dweck, OB/GYN, MD, and healthy mama® brand medical advisory board member. But because there is a risk that it could cause a miscarriage (less than 1 percent), there are less invasive alternatives.
One mom's experience: "It was nerve-wracking, because they said it could possibly cause miscarriage. It was a huge needle, and when they put it in, my ex flipped out and had to leave the room, because he's not good with needles! But it didn't really hurt -- just felt like more of a pinch. Not any worse than giving blood or something like that."
2. Nuchal translucency screening: Also called the NT or nuchal fold scan, this non-invasive test is one that Dr. Dweck recommends to all women regardless of age. It uses ultrasound to measure the clear (translucent) space in the tissue at the back of your baby's developing neck. "If elevated, [this] can be a marker of Down syndrome," explains Dr. Dweck.
One mom's experience: "I worried that both babies would have Down syndrome or another genetic disorder, which is why I opted to have the NT scan."
3. MaterniT-21 Plus test: This new blood test is done as early as 10 weeks into the pregnancy (weeks before more invasive tests like amniocentesis) and can detect Down syndrome and other chromosome abnormalities, including trisomy 18, 13, and sex chromosome abnormalities. Sequenom, the test’s maker, claims an accuracy rate of close to 99 percent, and its cost is roughly the same as amnio: $2,000, which may be covered by insurance. Similar tests include Harmony, Panorama, and Verifi, Dr. Dweck notes. All are "quite sensitive in detecting Downs in addition to other genetic abnormalities and detect the sex of the fetus."
One mom's experience: "I just freaked out when I was told I could take the MaterniT21 test. I was happy to find out everything was okay, but going in for the test -- and waiting for the results! -- was terrifying."
4. Chorionic Villi Sampling (CVS): Also used to detect birth defects, genetic diseases, and other problems during pregnancy. During CVS, a small sample of cells (called chorionic villi) are taken from the placenta where it attaches to the wall of the uterus. Because chorionic villi are tiny parts of the placenta that are formed from the fertilized egg, they have the same genes as the baby. CVS is considered to be 98 percent accurate in the diagnosis of chromosomal defects. CVS may carry a slightly higher risk of miscarriage than amnio, because the procedure is done in early pregnancy. Infection may also occur.
One mom's experience: "I was nervous, the needle was very long, but the procedure was quick. They used an ultrasound to see where the needle was going and we all watched my baby on the monitor. There is a risk that comes with this test, which I think is slightly higher than amnio, but that's where a good doctor comes in. I did my research and got an appointment with a highly rated MD. When I got my results at 11 weeks, it made the rest of my pregnancy virtually worry-free."
5. Anatomy ultrasound at 20 weeks: All women are encouraged to have this check-up, which will check for abnormalities that can be signs of Down syndrome, says Dr. Dweck.
One mom's experience: "This doesn't hurt at all, it's just like a typical sonogram, and it's actually fun to see the baby so developed and 'baby-like.'"
Have you had any of these tests? What was your experience like?
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