Genetics Northern California

Prenatal Services

Most babies are healthy at birth. However, there is a small chance for birth defects in any pregnancy. Most of these conditions happen randomly and do not run in the family. Prenatal testing can find some conditions before a baby is born. Prenatal tests do not detect all birth defects or all types of intellectual disability. There are many health problems that are not able to be found by prenatal tests. 

Prenatal tests look for certain birth defects, including conditions like Down syndrome and spina bifida (a birth defect of the spine). These conditions can happen in any pregnancy, even when there is no one else in the family with that condition. The chance for Down syndrome and other chromosome conditions gets higher as a woman gets older, but a woman of any age can have a baby with a chromosome condition.

To find your chance to have a baby with a chromosome condition: Maternal age risks

Testing for birth defects can be done by screening tests and diagnostic procedures. Either type of test is available for pregnant women of any age. If you want prenatal testing, you can choose which test you want to start with.   

  •  Prenatal screening tests estimate the chance for certain birth defects. Testing may be done by taking a small blood sample from a pregnant woman or by looking at the developing baby by ultrasound. Testing can only tell if the baby has a higher chance to have one of the conditions. More testing is needed to be sure.  There are two different screening options offered to women at Kaiser Permanente in California: 
            California Prenatal Screening
            Non-invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT)

  • Diagnostic procedures can tell you for sure about certain birth defects during pregnancy. Chromosome conditions and open spine defects are the most common conditions we test for with these procedures. Testing for other conditions can sometimes be done when there is a special risk.  There are two different diagnostic procedures that are used to diagnose chromosome conditions: 
                Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)

These prenatal tests are optional, so the decision to have testing or not is up to you. To find out more, here's a short program about prenatal testing:

                              Prenatal Testing: Understanding Your Options


If you are not yet pregnant, the California initiative called "Every Woman California" can give you information about steps to take to improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy.