What is prenatal screening?
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:
- Down syndrome (trisomy 21)
- Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18)
- Patau syndrome (trisomy 13)
These tests are:
- maternal blood test
- a nuchal translucency (NT) screening ultrasound
- presence or absence of your baby’s nasal bone
- your age and weight
- pregnancy age
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:
- Down syndrome
- Edwards syndrome
- neural tube defects (for example spina bifida)
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.
Is prenatal screening right for me?
Making the choice to have prenatal screening can be difficult for some people and their families. You can use the online YourChoice 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.
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Last reviewed: May 2022