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4 Benefits of Genetic Counseling for Expectant Parents

Did you know every human cell contains approximately 25,000 genes

During fetal development, genes act as a blueprint, determining every physical and biological characteristic of your growing child. However, one minor error in just one gene can have serious medical ramifications.

Genetic counseling helps expectant (or potential) parents better understand certain ethnicity-related disorders, identify whether they’re at risk, become better-informed about what their options are if their child may be at risk of a genetic disorder.

Genetic counseling helps identify parents who are at risk of having a child with a genetic disorder.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States has a birth defect. That’s approximately 120,000 babies each year. 

If you and your partner are thinking about starting a family, you may be wondering whether your child is at risk. Genetic counseling can paint a clearer picture and help you understand how to best prepare for your new baby. 

Genetic counseling is particularly beneficial if:

  • You or your partner have a close relative with a birth defect
  • You already have children with intellectual disabilities or genetic disorders
  • You’ve had two or more miscarriages
  • You’ll be 35 or older when your baby is born

There’s no way to predict your baby’s health entirely, but genetic counseling can provide you and your partner with additional information and peace of mind. 

For example, non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) can identify issues like Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome, and when drawn after 15 weeks, certain neural tube defects including spina bifida.

 Genetic counseling helps parents identify genetic problems within their ethnic group.

Genetic disorders affect babies of all races. However, some ethnic groups are more likely to experience unique genetic issues. Your ethnicity doesn’t guarantee your child will have a birth defect, but it can increase your risk. 

Some known genetic disorders that specifically affect particular ethnic groups include:

  • Sickle cell anemia among individuals of African descent
  • Tay-Sachs disease among individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • Thalassemia among individuals of Mediterranean descent

 Genetic counseling educates parents on inheritance patterns and the risk of recurrence.

Genetic disorders develop due to a variety of factors, including chromosomal disorders and problems with specific genes. The type of genetic disorder you carry also determines your risk of passing it to your children.

There are three types of genetic disorders: dominant disorders, x-linked disorders, and recessive disorders. After receiving the results of your NIPT, your genetic counselor can explain which type of genetic disorder you carry and your likelihood of passing it on to your newborn. 

Genetic counseling helps expecting parents understand their options and make informed decisions for the future.

Learning you carry a genetic disorder can be frightening, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start a family.   

For example, If your tests reveal you are at risk of having a child with a defect, you and your partner may want to consider in vitro fertilization, egg and sperm donation, adoption or using a surrogate. You also have the option of getting pregnant and participating in more specific prenatal genetics testing later on. 

Genetic counseling is also beneficial for parents who are expecting a child with a genetic defect. In addition to helping you prepare, your genetic counselor can refer you to specialists and community organizations who can provide support both during your pregnancy and after giving birth. 

If you’re thinking about starting a family or are already pregnant, and you or your partner have a known genetic disorder, genetic counseling can help you better plan ahead. If you’re interested in working with a genetic counselor, speak with your OB/GYN.

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