Prenatal testing – Yes or no?

Young pregnant woman and partner outdoors on an autumn day

Prenatal testing can show how an unborn baby is developing and whether they have any special challenges or health problems. It can be helpful, but it can also be unsettling. For this reason, it's important to get enough information and advice before deciding whether to have prenatal testing.

It is not always easy to know whether prenatal testing is right for you. Some women and couples feel pressured into making a decision soon. But you have enough time to get detailed medical or psychosocial advice. Women also have the legal right to make their own decision.

Prenatal testing is voluntary. In other words, all women can turn down any examination or test offered at any time without giving a reason. The right to not know is so important that nobody can force you to have prenatal testing.

What do you need to know?

Prenatal testing can have far-reaching consequences. Before deciding whether or not to have a prenatal test or examination, it's important to think about certain questions. For example:

  • How much do you want to know about your unborn baby before the birth?
  • Which examinations or tests might make sense in your situation?
  • What would you do if anything abnormal was found, like a deformity?
  • Would you continue the pregnancy or think about a termination?

How to decide?

Many people decide to have prenatal testing because they want to be as sure as possible that their child won't have any major disabilities. A normal result can put worries to rest. But the results can also be unsettling. And the testing doesn't offer any guarantees. Not everything can be spotted or ruled out during pregnancy.

Other people decide not to have certain prenatal examinations from the beginning, such as tests for trisomy conditions like Down syndrome. One reason might be that they want to accept their baby just as she or he is. They wouldn't consider terminating the pregnancy.

Not everyone who decides to have prenatal testing would be willing to terminate the pregnancy afterwards. The findings can also help people to prepare themselves – both mentally and in a practical sense – for having a child with special challenges. Your feelings or attitude might also change during pregnancy.

Where can you find information and advice?

The following options might be helpful:

  • Information and advice from a doctor: Doctors are obliged to inform you about the purpose, the accuracy and the possible effects of prenatal testing. Only doctors with special authorization are allowed to provide information about genetic testing in pregnancy. They might include gynecologists or a doctor’s office or institution for prenatal diagnostics or human genetics.
  • Psychosocial counseling: In Germany, this is mainly offered by pregnancy advice centers (Schwangerschaftsberatungsstellen). They offer advice to women and couples in person, online or by telephone (anonymously, if you prefer). The counseling can help you decide whether to have prenatal testing or not, and it can help you consider your options if the results are abnormal. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss any expectations and worries you might have about your pregnancy. And it can provide support when you're waiting for the results of a test or examination, which can sometimes be distressing.

You have a right to genetic and psychosocial counseling – both before having genetic testing, and after any abnormalities are found. Doctors are obliged to tell you that. At your request, they are also obliged to provide you with specific contact details of pregnancy advice centers. But you can search for local centers yourself as well, on the website of the German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA). Doctors can also give you the contact details of support groups and disability associations.

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). Information for health insurance fund members on prenatal testing: Final report. Commission P17-01. Version 1.0. 2020.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

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Created on September 21, 2022

Next planned update: 2025


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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