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Antenatal screening

Around 700,000 women get pregnant in the UK every year. Over 95% of these pregnancies result in the birth of a healthy baby. However, in a few cases there are problems affecting the baby’s development. This could be a serious mental or physical abnormality. If doctors and parents know about any problems early on, they can make decisions about how best to deal with it. This may involve preparing for special care that will be needed after the birth, or choosing to terminate the pregnancy (have an abortion).

Antenatal screening is a way of assessing whether the unborn baby (foetus) could develop or has developed a serious abnormality during pregnancy. Screening is not the same as diagnosis – it tells doctors how likely a baby is to develop certain conditions. If the risk of complications is found to be high, the mother may be offered a pre-natal diagnosis. This is a test to find out more about how likely the baby is to be born with the suspected condition.

Examples of diagnostic tests include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS). They are not offered routinely because they are often quite invasive (go into the body) and unnecessary for the majority of women who have healthy pregnancies. You can find more information about the common diagnostic tests in separate encyclopaedia topics.