The Role of Genetic Counseling in Pregnancy


Ellen Greenlaw

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It’s natural to have questions about your future. If you’re expecting a child or thinking about getting pregnant, those questions may revolve around the health of your baby. How your family health history or genetic disorders will affect the birth of your unborn child may be one area where you have some questions. A genetic counselor can help. This specialist can help you understand your risks of having a baby with an inherited disease or other type of condition. 

When to See a Genetic Professional

There are many reasons people choose to speak with a genetic expert before or during a pregnancy. You may want to see a genetic counselor if you:

  • Are a woman age 35 or older who is pregnant or wants to become pregnant. Women older than 35 have an increased risk of having a baby with a genetic disorder or birth defect.

  • Already have a child with a birth defect or inherited disorder

  • Have had three or more miscarriages or had a baby die in infancy

  • Have a family history of an inherited disorder such as cystic fibrosis

  • Want more information about a genetic disorder that is common in your ethnic group, such as Tay-Sachs disease among those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent or sickle cell disease among African Americans

  • Have had an abnormal result from an ultrasound or screening test during pregnancy

  • Want to discuss risks that your baby may have been exposed to during pregnancy, such as X-rays, drugs or chemicals

Know the Types of Genetic Experts

There are two different types of genetic professionals. The type you see may depend on your situation. 

  • Genetic counselors. These are professionals who are trained to provide information and counseling to couples and families who have, or are at risk for, genetic conditions. They can answer your questions and help you understand and cope with genetic disorders and birth defects.

  • Clinical geneticists. These are medical doctors who have additional training in genetics. They can perform exams and order tests to help diagnose genetic conditions and birth defects, explain what the results mean, and give advice about your options.

How Genetic Counselors Can Help 

Genetic counselors can provide a wide range of services. When you see a genetic counselor, he or she may:

  • Review your medical history and family history

  • Discuss any possible genetic risks you may have

  • Talk about your testing options and help you make appointments for tests

  • Help you understand test results, and how the results may affect your pregnancy or future pregnancies

  • Discuss possible treatments for a genetic disorder

  • Help you cope with a diagnosis of a genetic disorder or birth defect

  • Help you find other resources in the community

You may meet with a genetic counselor once, or have several visits. Genetic counseling and some genetic testing are often covered by health insurance when ordered by a doctor. Check with your insurance plan to find out your specific coverage. 

How to Find a Genetic Counselor

In most cases, your doctor can refer you to a genetic counselor. Many teaching hospitals and large medical centers offer genetic testing and services. Go to to get background information on your doctor’s referrals or start your own search for a genetic counselor near you.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 21, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Frequently asked questions about genetic counselors by patients. National Society of Genetic Counselors.
  2. Genetic counseling. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Genetic counseling. March of Dimes.

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