Current antenatal screening arrangements do not always give parents the time or information they need to make decisions about their unborn babies, according to new research.
Around 700,000 women get pregnant in the UK every year, with more than 95% of these pregnancies resulting in the birth of a healthy baby. However, in a few cases, conditions such as Down's syndrome, spina bifida or congenital heart disease can occur, which affect the baby's mental or physical development.
At present, women are offered screening at between 11 and 16 weeks for Down's syndrome and a detailed ultrasound at 19 or 20 weeks, which can reveal other conditions.
Researchers gathered views from 135 prospective parents and 100 health professionals, mainly midwives, across the UK to find out what sort of information was given out at antenatal screenings and to find out how they felt the process could be improved. Their findings included:
The report concludes by saying that "there are significant groups of parents who are being given insufficient opportunity to consider the options" and calls for health bosses to introduce more information that is not written such as DVD or books that use images to communicate key points. It also calls for more discussion of issues around screening between midwives and parents, with discussion of things such as labour, birth and postnatal care left to a later stage in the pregnancy.
Dr Heather Skirton said: "Making sure parents have a real choice about screening is important. They need the right information at the right time, but information alone is not enough. Every family is different, and parents have to be able to think through their decisions, taking into account their own experiences, beliefs and circumstances."
The study was funded by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, part of the Mental Health Foundation.
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