Antenatal Screening

Getting diagnostic test results

Waiting for diagnostic test results to come back is an anxious time. During this period some people were starting, however reluctantly, to search for information about their baby's suspected condition and think through what they would do if they received a positive diagnosis. Others could not talk about it until they had definite information.

Midwives can give the results of the test to people at home, at the antenatal clinic, over the phone or in a letter. A concern for many people was knowing definitely when they would receive the results and how, this should have been discussed with them beforehand. It was particularly distressing if results did not arrive when they had been promised, although in this case the news was good when it finally arrived.

In one case, the hospital had been trying to ring the woman at home, but she had gone back to work, and had not realised they would only ring her at home. When the midwife eventually rang, she was impressed how well she communicated the results.

A couple who eventually discovered their baby had Turner's syndrome were initially reassured that their CVS results were negative for various conditions. They described what a blow it was to get another telephone call one evening to say their baby had Turner's syndrome, having thought they were clear, but also remarked that there is no perfect way of giving people bad news. They were glad to be told the name of the condition before they saw the consultant the next day, so they could do some research.

Getting a diagnosis is a particular shock when it is unexpected. One woman had amniocentesis as a first-line test instead of screening, and was puzzled to see the midwife arriving at her house rather than phoning as arranged. In this case, the appointment to see a consultant to discuss the results (Down's syndrome) was the same afternoon, which felt very rushed.

This may have been because the results came on a Friday, so staff thought it would be better than waiting over a weekend. Several people reported getting their results on a Friday. Some found it helpful to have a weekend to mull it over, but others wanted to see someone as soon as possible after getting the results.

Most people who had been referred for a specialist scan were already prepared for a definite diagnosis. One woman described how a fetal cardiologist saw her quickly after her 20-week scan and explained her baby's condition very well.

Not all conditions can be identified with certainty, however, so some people may have several scans, sometimes over several months, to try confirm the diagnosis. This can be tiring and stressful.

One woman was given a cardiac scan because she had diabetes, which is an extra risk factor for heart conditions in the baby. Only the previous week she had had a reassuring 20-week scan, so she was not expecting to discover the baby did in fact have a heart condition.

Occasionally, problems were picked up much later in pregnancy. For example, one mother described a scan at 8 months to check if her baby was breech which found that part of the baby's brain had not developed (agenesis of the corpus callosum). The mother was told there was little hope, but the baby has since made better progress than predicted.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated August 2010.


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