Many people have never heard the term “genetic counseling.” Some people have heard about genetic counseling and associate it with hearing bad or scary news. In reality, genetic counseling is about conversation, education, guidance and support. It is about helping a woman feel empowered when it comes to her pregnancy and her health, as well as the health of her baby.
What is a genetic counselor?
A genetic counselor is a healthcare provider who has advanced educational training in medical genetics and counseling. Prenatal genetic counselors specialize in helping women and their families understand medical genetic information as it relates to the health of a pregnancy or a future pregnancy. There are many reasons that a woman might visit or be referred to a genetic counselor, such as:
- Having questions about available genetic testing options
- Having a prior child with, or a family history of, a genetic condition or birth defect
- Having a medical condition or an exposure (i.e. medication, radiation, etc.) that may increase the risk for pregnancy complications
- Having an abnormal genetic screening test result or ultrasound finding
- Having experienced several pregnancy losses
The Benefits of Genetic Counseling
After gathering information about family and medical history, a genetic counselor can help a woman decide what type of prenatal genetic testing is best for her, or if she needs testing at all. While genetic tests can provide information about the health of a current or future pregnancy, genetic counselors are uniquely trained to discuss the benefits, risks and limitations of genetic testing. They are also trained to help women determine whether or not the information from genetic testing will be helpful to them. When a woman decides to undergo testing, a genetic counselor explains the results and discusses if additional tests are needed.
In most cases, genetic counselors offer reassurance that a current or future pregnancy will be healthy. However, when complications arise, the information and perspective received from a genetic counselor can be invaluable as expectant parents prepare for the birth of their child. With the help of the genetic counselor, parents can use the rest of the time before their baby’s birthday to:
- Learn more about the complication faced by their unborn child
- Meet with other specialists who may be involved with their child’s care after birth, such as neonatologists, cardiologists, pediatric surgeons, etc.
- Talk with family members and friends to help them prepare for their child’s birth
- Reach out to other parents who have been in a similar situation for support and guidance
- Contact a support group for parents of children who have the same complication
- Select a pediatrician
- Arrange for childcare
The goal of the genetic counseling team at WakeMed Physician Practices (WPP) – Maternal Fetal Medicine is to ensure parents feel supported when it comes to welcoming and caring for their child by connecting them with the appropriate information, specialists and resources.
Things to Think about Before Becoming Pregnant
The genetic counseling team at WPP – Maternal Fetal Medicine provides consultation to women who are pregnant, and we are also happy to meet with women who have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss or who have concerns about a future pregnancy.
Before becoming pregnant, it is important to think about your health and any factors that might affect a baby’s development. Therefore, consider these things first before attempting to conceive:
- Know your family medical history and that of your partner as well. Learn more by asking questions of your family members and doing research on conditions that may not be familiar to you.
- If you have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes or epilepsy, ensure that it is well controlled before trying to conceive.
- If you take medication, talk to your doctor about the possibility of reducing the dosage and/or stopping use of unnecessary medication.
- If you are a smoker, get on a path toward quitting.
- Stop use of alcohol and illicit drugs.
- Ensure you are up-to-date with all vaccinations.
- Talk with your doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid.
For more information on the genetic counseling services available through WakeMed Physician Practices – Maternal Fetal Medicine, visit our website or call 919-350-6002 (Raleigh Campus location) or 919-235-6433 (North Campus location).
Cheryl Dickerson, MS, CGC, is a genetic counselor at WakeMed Physician Practices – Maternal Fetal Medicine.