Antenatal Screening

Feelings about antenatal screening looking back

People who had chosen to continue with a pregnancy after discovering their baby would have a disability or health problem generally felt glad they had found out before birth. 

One parent interviewed for our site on parents of children with congenital heart defects said in some ways she would rather not have known at all.  

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Everybody agreed it was shocking news at the time, and affected how they felt about the rest of the pregnancy, but most felt the advantages of finding out outweighed the disadvantages.

At one extreme, people felt antenatal diagnosis had saved their baby's life by alerting them to the need to give birth in a specialist centre with skilled surgeons and intensive care facilities. Alternatively, it gave one couple the chance to allow their baby to die peacefully and with dignity.

Even in less immediately life-threatening cases, one mother said it was helpful to have had a diagnosis antenatally, as otherwise her daughter's condition might not have been picked up until adulthood. The additional anxiety in pregnancy and childhood was worth it to know her long term future was safer. Some people commented on the value of being able to make practical preparations, such as organising therapy.

Being able to prepare mentally and emotionally was a very important benefit from antenatal diagnosis, though many commented that nothing can prepare you fully for the reality. One father felt they were lucky to have found out very early, so they had a lot of time to get used to the idea. He felt they would make the same decisions again, although another time he might press for more information during screening.

Some people prefer to have a diagnosis later in pregnancy, so they have less time to spend worrying.

However, one mother whose baby was found at 8 months to have hydrocephalus and a partially developed brain would have liked longer to adjust to what was going to happen. In her case, the baby's problems were discovered by chance at a late scan to check if she was breech.

This had undermined the mother's faith in the effectiveness of screening earlier in pregnancy, and made her feel there ought to be more opportunities for screening throughout pregnancy. She felt no-one had ever explained why her baby's condition had not been detected earlier. (Brain conditions are difficult to detect at 20-week scans because the brain is not fully formed at this stage).

One mother found after birth that her son's heart condition was worse than expected and he had several other problems not picked up through screening, but she still felt screening was valuable. Most of the parents we talked to had not yet experienced another pregnancy or had decided they did not want another baby now, but this mother was pregnant again when interviewed her.

She, too, had originally thought she would not want another baby. Now that she was pregnant again, she would definitely want to know if this baby had similar problems and was having additional heart scans as well as routine screening. She was not sure if she would make the same decision again, because it has been so difficult to watch her son suffering.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated August 2010.



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