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I want to try for a baby - should I seek genetic counseling?

Posted by Be Well

I want to try for a baby - should I seek genetic counseling?
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Most couples planning to try for a baby do not need genetic counseling, neither do most pregnant women. Genetic counseling can help if an inherited health condition runs in your family or your partner's family.

What is genetics?

Genetics is a branch of biology that studies genes. Your genes form a unique blueprint that determines all your physical and biological characteristics. Genetic science studies how genes are passed from parents to children, and how they determine a person's individual characteristics, such as eye and hair color.

Genetics also studies inherited health conditions. A health condition can be inherited when a gene changes (mutates) and is passed down through a family. Each generation of children can inherit the gene that causes the condition.

Genetic counseling

Genetic counseling is a branch of medicine that has developed rapidly, in response to the need for more information about genetic conditions and how they can be inherited.

Genetic counselors are health professionals who have gone through specialist training. Before specialising in genetics, they may have achieved a university degree in genetics or a related subject, such as a biological science, nursing or psychology. Or they may have qualified first as a nurse or midwife.

Genetic counseling can help to assess the risk of you or your partner passing on a health condition to your child. A genetic counselor can give you information about the health condition, how it is inherited and which family members may be affected. Genetic counseling can also provide support and advice if you already have a child affected by an inherited condition and want to have another child.

Genetic counseling is not a form of psychological counseling or psychotherapy. It should not be confused with counseling therapy that is used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Getting help

If you know that an inherited condition runs in your family or your partner's family, it's best to seek your doctor's advice before you try for a baby. A baby can inherit defective genes from one or both of its parents. Your doctor can offer advice about the risks of you and your partner passing on a condition.

If you're already pregnant, your doctor can give you advice about prenatal screening, for example, where there is a family history of conditions such as Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida or congenital heart defects.

Depending on the type of health condition, your doctor may recommend that you see a specialist for a genetic consultation, which may involve genetic testing or genetic counseling. Your doctor can refer you to a regional genetics center. For example, your doctor may refer you for a genetic consultation if:

  • you have a relative or a child with conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or Down's syndrome, or
  • your ethnic group is known to be at higher risk of inherited conditions such as sickle-cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease.

Genetic consultations

If your doctor refers you for a genetic consultation, your appointment may include:

  • explaining the medical science about a health condition and what it means, using everyday language,
  • looking at and evaluating the medical history of your family or your partner's family,
  • explaining how the health condition is inherited (patterns of inheritance),
  • discussing genetic tests, if appropriate, and arranging for the tests to be done,
  • helping you to understand the results of genetic tests and explaining their implications, and
  • providing support to address any emotional issues raised.

It is important to understand that genetic counselors will not make decisions for you or tell you what you should do next. They will try to explain the facts as clearly as possible, giving you accurate information about your options in a way you can understand, so that you and your partner can decide what is best for you.

NOTICE: The information provided on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on Wellsphere. If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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