Preconception Genetic Counseling

July 4, 2010

You want to do everything you can to ensure that any child you have will have the best possible chance for a full and healthy life. For this reason, you were careful to seek out preconception care. But now you're wondering: is it necessary to have genetic counseling, too?

The genes form chromosomal patterns that serve as a blueprint for your every biological and physical characteristic. These patterns are a kind of code that is unique to you. Your genes determine the color of your eyes and hair. But they also contain inherited traits and some may be passed by you to your children.

Pinpointing Genetic Risks

During genetic counseling, a specialist evaluates your risk for carrying an inherited condition to any children you might have. The specialist has special training in the field of genetic counseling and is qualified to help pinpoint families who might be at risk. He can look into any medical conditions that might put a child at risk, inform you of your options, and assess the possibility for a recurrence in your future children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us that only a small percentage of infants in the U.S.—3%—have a congenital defect. Because birth defects are unusual rather than commonplace, most people planning to have kids won't need to have genetic counseling. However, if you have any of these risk factors, it would be prudent for you to schedule an appointment with a genetic counseling specialist:

*You or your partner has a child who was born with a congenital defect or genetic disorder

*The mother-to-be is over the age of 35

*You had a close relative with an inherited disease

*You're of Italian, Greek, or Middle Eastern heritage which puts you at risk for thalassemia

*You're African American and at risk for sickle cell anemia

*You're a Jew of Ashkenazi heritage and may be at risk for Tay-Sachs disease

Gather Genetic Information

During your genetic counseling sessions, the specialist will be working with you to build a full medical history representing you, your partner, and your families. The goal of these sessions is to gather information on any medical conditions that might have affected either of your families and how these conditions might have developed. Be prepared to answer a variety of questions from your genetic counselor, including:

*Do you suspect you might conceive a child with a congenital defect? Why?

*Do any of your relatives suffer from birth defects such as mental retardation, for instance?

*Are your parents living? Are they in good health?

*Do you have relatives suffering from genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, or hemophilia?

*What is your ethnic background?

*Do some diseases seem to repeat in your family?

*Have you ever had multiple births, hypertension, diabetes, or cancer?

*Have any relatives experienced pregnancy complications?

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