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A User's Guide to Prenatal Tests

A User's Guide to Prenatal Tests

WebMD Feature

I must confess -- before I became pregnant, I was a medical wimp. A finger prick before my wedding day and annual checkups and pap smears were the extent of my relationship with doctors, and I liked it that way. But my first prenatal exam changed all that.

I soon discovered that no matter how young or healthy, moms-to-be face a variety of prenatal tests to monitor the health of their babies and their pregnancies. In most cases, these tests offer reassurance that everything is going smoothly, and many of them are meant to spot problems, such as iron deficiency or diabetes, that can be treated before complications occur.

Other tests, particularly those that are used to detect genetic problems, such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis or spina bifida, can present some tough choices and worries for parents-to-be. The initial screening tests are not meant to be conclusive. They are intended to determine if you are at higher-than-usual risk and may call for additional diagnostic tests that carry some risk to the fetus, although the odds of a healthy baby are still high -- only about 2% to 3% of all babies are born with a genetic defect.