There are many choices for a woman to make when she finds out she’s expecting, from what kinds of food she’s going to eat to which doctor she wants to see. With over 40% of children in the United States being born out of wedlock (CDC), many pregnant women are facing an additional choice: whether or not to have a prenatal paternity test.
This is a personal decision, and one that possibly comes with societal ethical and moral dilemmas attached. So before deciding whether or not to even consider such a procedure, it’s critical for a woman to have solid information about what her options are for prenatal paternity testing, the pros and cons of each, and the low-down on any associated risks and costs.
Prenatal Paternity Test Choices
CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling): Performed during Weeks 10-13
With this test, a doctor inserts a thin tube into the vagina. Guided by ultrasound, the device is gently inserted through the cervix, where it collects tissue from chorionic villi in the placenta. Chorionic villi are tiny finger-shaped wisps of tissue whose cells contain the baby’s DNA (HealthDay). A DNA sample is extracted in the lab and then compared to samples from the possible father and the mother. This process can also be performed by passing a needle through the wall of the abdomen (NHS).
PROS: You can have it done earlier in the pregnancy than an amniocentesis test (see below).
CONS: It is an invasive procedure that carries a slight risk of miscarriage. For this reason, most doctors hesitate to perform it or simply will not perform it for paternity test reasons alone. It is most often conducted to identify birth defects and disorders. Some studies also suggest it may cause defects in the babies’ fingers and toes (HealthDay).
COST: $1,400-2,000 for the physician. $400-1,000 for DNA testing
Some insurance plans cover the test, especially for women over 35 who have a higher chance of having a baby with genetic abnormalities. But most will not cover the procedure or testing if you want it only for paternity testing.
Amniocentesis: Performed during Weeks 14-20
A doctor inserts an ultrasound-guided needle through the wall of the abdomen and extracts a sample of fluid from the amniotic sac. For a test, it is a relatively lengthy procedure that can take approximately 45 minutes. The growing baby sheds cells into the amniotic fluid, which allows the DNA to be collected. Amniocentesis is primarily used to detect chromosome abnormalities and genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis and spina bifida, but since DNA is being collected in the process, it can be used for a prenatal paternity test.
PROS: It’s a test that’s very familiar to most OBs, and has a relatively high success rate.
CONS: Like the CVS test, amniocentesis is an invasive procedure that carries a small risk of miscarriage. And, because it is so invasive, many doctors will not do it strictly for paternity test sample collection. Although it’s extremely rare, sometimes a needle may come into contact with the baby (American Pregnancy).
COST: $600-2,000 for the physician. $400-1,000 for DNA testing
Again, be sure to check your health insurance plan carefully. Although amniocentesis is nearly always covered when there is a health concern, it probably will not be covered for only a paternity test. (Womens Health Advice).
Non-Invasive Paternity Test: Performed Starting in the 7th Week of Pregnancy
This option requires a blood sample from the mother and a cheek-swab or blood sample from the father. Fetal cells are shed into the mother’s bloodstream; the DNA from the cells is then isolated and a separate profile from the mother’s can be created through extensive and complicated testing (Womens Health). The baby’s profile is then compared with the father’s and a probability of paternity can be determined.
PROS: This paternity test can be done as early as 7 weeks into the pregnancy and is non-invasive, which means there is virtually no risk to the mother or baby. It does not require the involvement of a medical doctor, since blood and buccal samples can be collected outside a doctor’s office. When DNA testing is performed through an accredited lab, results can be 99.9% (+/-)accurate.
CONS: There is a small chance that a woman may have fetal cells in her bloodstream from a previous recent pregnancy (Womens Health). If this is relevant, it should be discussed with the DNA-test case manager
COST: Approximately $1,600
Prenatal Paternity Test vs. Postnatal Paternity Test
One of the myths of paternity testing is that a woman has to wait until after the baby’s born to get the answer she seeks, but that’s not the case. She can get answers before birth if she feels it’s in her best interest to do so. With advances in technology, today’s prenatal test is a safe choice.
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“Amniocentesis.” American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association, 1 July 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://americanpregnancy.org/prenatal-testing/amniocentesis/>.
Henry, Sarah. “CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling).” CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling). HealthDay, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/pregnancy-33/pregnancy-news-543/cvs-chorionic-villus-sampling-644471.html>.
Martin, Joyce A., M.P.H, Brady E. Hamilton, PhD, Michelle J.K Osterman, M.H.S, Sally C. Curtin, M.A., and T.J Mathews, M.S. “National Vital Statistics Report.” Systematic Biology 64.1 (2014): I1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_01.pdf>.
“Paternity Test In Pregnancy.” Paternity Test While Pregnant: Prenatal Paternal Testing During Pregnancy, Types Of DNA Tests, Methods, Risks, Costs, Amniocentesis, Chorionic Villus Sampling, CVS, Fetal Cell Non Invasive Options. Womens Health Advice, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://www.womens-health-advice.com/paternity-testing/while-pregnant.html>.
“What Is a Prenatal Paternity Test?” – Health Questions. Gov.UK, 28 July 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/what-is-a-prenatal-paternity-test.aspx?CategoryID=61&SubCategoryID=615>.