DNA Testing During Pregnancy

If a women finds herself pregnant after intercourse with more than one partner in her fertile period, she may elect to have a paternity test at birth. However, it is also possible to conduct DNA testing during pregnancy, which may be important if a paternity suit is ongoing or if the woman had an affair and needs to know which partner fathered her child.

Although it is generally safe to perform a paternity test during pregnancy, there is a small risk of miscarriage because the process involves sampling the amniotic fluid or the chorionic villi to determine the genetic makeup of the fetus. Any time the fetal milieu is invaded, it is possible for the pregnancy to abort, and this must be carefully considered before one elects for DNA testing during pregnancy.

The following tests are available:

  • Amniocentesis: this test can be performed at the beginning of the second trimester and involves the sampling of the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus using a needle guided by ultrasound. Because fetal cells are sloughed into the amniotic fluid, this sample can undergo DNA testing during pregnancy to confirm paternity.
  • Chorionic villus sampling: this test can be performed earlier than amniocentesis, but carries a marginally higher risk of miscarriage (around 1% for either test) and some evidence suggests a higher incidence of limb abnormalities if these test is performed earlier then 10 weeks gestation. The chorionic villi, which are fingerlike projections of the placental tissue, which carry the same genetic blueprint as the fetus. This procedure can be performed vaginally or trans-abdominally (similar to amniocentesis).

One must also consider the repercussions of a paternity test during pregnancy. As the mother, do you feel strongly that the father “has” to be one partner versus the other? Consider how you will feel if the results of an affair ended in a pregnancy, and you had to confess this to your spouse. If more than two partners could potentially be the father, are you prepared to discuss the pregnancy with any one of them? Although issues of paternity and starting a family should ideally be hashed out long before a pregnancy is ongoing, if you find yourself in need of DNA testing during pregnancy, you should keep the lines of communication open with all paternity candidates, if possible. In such a non-ideal situation, it may give you comfort to at least know the identity of the father, even if you chose not to disclose this information and give birth as a single mother.

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