Antenatal Screening

Combined screening for Down's syndrome & other chromosomal abnormalities: nuchal translucency scan & blood test (being told something may be wrong)

Some women were told their nuchal scan results showed they had an increased chance (higher risk) of something being wrong with the baby (see also 'Deciding whether to have further diagnostic tests').

They generally felt glad the nuchal scan had given them a chance to find out early, particularly as they knew it was not available everywhere. This applied both to people who chose to end the pregnancy and to people who felt better prepared for the baby's birth.

Several of these women started to feel worried during the scan, before anyone had told them anything. The reasons for anxiety included being told they needed a repeat scan; staff talking amongst themselves or calling in a senior colleague; and staff remaining or becoming silent without explaining why.

One woman who decided to end her pregnancy when Down's syndrome was diagnosed described her anxiety when the sonographer became silent, and her initial reaction to being told there might be a problem but that she would have to wait to discuss the results with a doctor. 

Having to wait to discuss the results was a common concern, as described by one father. Although their baby did not in fact have Down's syndrome, they only found out that he had had a heart condition (now successfully treated) because the nuchal translucency scan results led to further investigations.

One couple were told they needed to come back after a few minutes to try the scan again because the mother had 'too much wind'. Although at the time they were not anxious about this, looking back they wondered whether the first sonographer had already noticed something.

A woman who later discovered her baby had Down's syndrome and ended the pregnancy described how at her local hospital it was standard practice to ask partners to wait outside for the first part of the scan, so she was on her own at first. She would have preferred to have his support throughout.

She explained how they gradually realised something was wrong as more scans were done and another member of staff was called.

Parents may be asked to sit back in the waiting room with other parents in between scans and this may feel awkward if they have already begun to worry. One woman also described her feelings in the waiting room for a repeat scan at a specialist hospital. Many felt it was important to have someone with you at all scans.

Some people were reassured by their nuchal translucency scan results but later found the baby did have a chromosomal condition. One woman had paid to have a scan for reassurance following a miscarriage, rather than to find out about Down's syndrome. The result was reassuring so she decided not to have blood tests, but after birth found her baby did have Down's syndrome.

Other women found out later in pregnancy that something was wrong. One thought that her baby's hydrocephalus was suspected at the nuchal translucency scan but she was not told till the 20-week scan.

A woman whose baby was later diagnosed with a serious chromosomal condition (Edwards' syndrome) described a generally reassuring nuchal scan, although she did find it uncomfortable having a full bladder and having the sonographer press quite hard. She later found out the person doing the scan had recorded that he could not see a stomach or kidneys, but had not told her at the time.

Many experiences discussed here are common to other types of scan. (See also 'Early dating scans' and '18-20 week scans').

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated June 2014.

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