Volume 12, Number 2 September 10, 2004

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Prenatal testing found to be complex issue

By Kristina Bergen
SPARK Writer

Today prenatal imaging techniques such as ultrasound are so common as to be assumed a natural part of pregnancy. And many mothers have the pictures to prove it.

But techniques such as amniocentesis and serum screening (blood tests) that are designed specifically to detect disability in utero are also becoming more common, even though women may not be aware of all the implications of testing.

“Although prenatal tests are very useful in providing women with information about the health status of their child, their use is not without consequences to women, their families and society as a whole,” says U of S Psychology Prof. Karen Lawson.

Funded by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, Lawson is examining women’s satisfaction with their decision on whether to use prenatal testing.

She has found that although most women report being very satisfied with their decision and would make the same decision again, many expectant mothers who have amniocentesis or serum screening experience great anxiety while waiting for test results.

This emotional stress may cause headaches, a loss of appetite, high-blood pressure, fatigue or sleeplessness, all of which can affect the health of both mother and child.

Lawson says anxiety can also influence a woman’s reaction to her pregnancy, stalling an emotional bond between mother-to-be and unborn baby until test results confirm everything is fine.

In a related study funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, she is also examining the extent to which perceptions of parenting a disabled child, specifically a child with Down syndrome, underlie parents’ reasons for having prenatal tests performed.

Initial findings suggest that people who are more likely to seek prenatal testing believe parenting a child with Down syndrome doesn’t offer the same personal rewards usually associated with raising a child. This idea seems to be based on negative stereotypes. Meaningful relationships with Down syndrome children are linked to more positive perceptions about what parenting a child with Down syndrome would be like, she says, “and this appears to translate into less desire to use prenatal testing or to terminate a pregnancy in which Down syndrome has been diagnosed.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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