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What is prenatal screening?

5-minute read

Prenatal screening is available to all pregnant women. These tests estimate the chance that your baby has a chromosomal or physical condition. Most babies are born healthy.

There are different types of tests available. They vary in how exact they are and what information they can give you. No single test checks for all conditions.

It is your choice whether you have prenatal screening. Your healthcare provider will be able to give you more information to help you decide.

What prenatal screening tests are available?

Combined first trimester screening

Combined first trimester screening (CFTS) adds the results from different tests. Together these give a risk estimate for:

These tests are:

The blood test looks at different proteins in your blood.

The ultrasound measures the thickness of the fluid behind the baby’s neck.

This test happens between 9 weeks and 13 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy.

Second trimester maternal serum screening

Second trimester maternal serum screening calculates the risk that your baby has:

The test involves:

  • a blood test
  • your age and weight
  • pregnancy age

This test happens between 15 and 17 weeks of pregnancy. It can happen up to 20 weeks.

Non-invasive prenatal test

A non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) is a type of blood test. An NIPT is a very accurate test for Down syndrome. It also tests for other chromosomal issues. Testing is done from 10 weeks pregnancy.

Diagnostic testing is used to confirm high risk results.

There are some specialist clinics in Australia that can do this test. You will need to find out if there are clinics near you that do the NIPT.

The NIPT test is not available under Medicare or your private health fund. You will need to think about the cost of the test.

Making the choice to have prenatal screening can be difficult for some people and their families. You can use the online Screening Choices tool to help you decide:

  • whether to have prenatal screening
  • which tests are right for you

Before you have a prenatal screening test, you should also talk to your doctor or midwife about:

  • the advantages and disadvantages of each test
  • what further tests you might need
  • what the result might mean for you and your family

What happens after the screening test?

If your prenatal screening test shows that your baby has a high risk, you will be offered genetic counselling. The counsellor will explain the facts to you. You will also be offered diagnostic tests such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. These diagnostic tests give you a definitive (yes or no) result.

You do not need to have these tests if you don’t want to. You should talk to your healthcare practitioner about your options. It’s important to think about what you would do if the test shows there may be a problem. There can be many things to think about. How do you feel about caring for a baby or raising a child with a disability? What could it mean for your family? How might you feel during your pregnancy? Would you choose to end the pregnancy?

How much do prenatal screening tests cost?

The cost of prenatal screening depends on a few things, such as:

  • whether you are a public or private patient
  • the type of test
  • whether the doctors think there is a higher chance of your baby having a chromosomal abnormality

You may be able to claim money back from Medicare for: part of the cost of the blood test and ultrasound scan.

Medicare doesn't cover the NIPT. This test might cost you a few hundred dollars.

Where to go for help

Sometimes the result of your prenatal screening test can be upsetting. It’s important to talk to someone. Help and support are available to you.

You can find out more about screening tests by asking your doctor, midwife or a genetic counsellor.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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Need more information?

Prenatal Screening & Options - Prenatal Screening

Prospective Parent It's Your Choice Prenatal Screening & Options Diagnostic Process & Options Chromosomal Conditions Pregnancy Options During and after pregnancy Personal Stories

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

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Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

Pregnancy Options - Prenatal Screening

Prospective Parent It's Your Choice Prenatal Screening & Options Diagnostic Process & Options Chromosomal Conditions Pregnancy Options During and after pregnancy Personal Stories

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

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Prospective Parent It's Your Choice Prenatal Screening & Options Diagnostic Process & Options Chromosomal Conditions Pregnancy Options During and after pregnancy Personal Stories

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

Diagnostic Process & Options - Prenatal Screening

Prospective Parent It's Your Choice Prenatal Screening & Options Diagnostic Process & Options Chromosomal Conditions Pregnancy Options During and after pregnancy Personal Stories

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

It's Your Choice - Prenatal Screening

Prospective Parent It's Your Choice Prenatal Screening & Options Diagnostic Process & Options Chromosomal Conditions Pregnancy Options During and after pregnancy Personal Stories

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

During & After Pregnancy - Prenatal Screening

Prospective Parent It's Your Choice Prenatal Screening & Options Diagnostic Process & Options Chromosomal Conditions Pregnancy Options During and after pregnancy Personal Stories

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

Support - Prenatal Screening

People often contact our service to better understand their screening results

Read more on Prenatal Screening - Down Syndrome Queensland website

Prenatal screening and testing

Prenatal testing is available to check the health of your baby. It is your choice if you decide to have these tests and you should discuss your options with your doctor or genetic counsellor.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Prenatal Screening for Chromosomal and Genetic Conditions

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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