Non-invasive prenatal test

The NHS is set to offer a new non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) which will help with the early identification of genetic abnormalities. Given at just ten weeks into the pregnancy, the simple blood test is also able to identify the sex of the baby. However, experts are calling for the early gender reveal to be banned amidst worries it could be used for gender selection pregnancies.

Here, we’ll look at what the new NIPT involves and why experts are worried about the gender reveal aspect of the test.

What is this pregnancy test used for?

The NIPT is a blood test which was first made available in the UK in 2012. Carried out as early as ten weeks, it is largely used to test baby’s risk of Down’s Syndrome, Patau’s Syndrome and Edward’s Syndrome.

Compared to other existing tests, NIPT is much more accurate and it’s known to present no risk of a miscarriage. A little blood is taken from the arm, in which traces of your baby’s DNA can be found. The DNA is then tested for potential chromosomal abnormalities. Results of the test typically take up to three weeks.

While its ability to detect chromosomal abnormalities is extremely beneficial, the test can also reveal other information about the baby including gender. It is this aspect which experts are hoping to ban.

Gender reveal not considered medically useful

A report recently published by the National Council for Bioethics, recommends against using NIPT for gender reveal purposes, claiming it isn’t medically useful. The worry is that the information could be used as a gender selection process.

For example, in some cultures, there is a preference for baby boys. So, if a woman discovers she is having a baby girl at ten weeks, she could be more inclined to have an abortion and try again for a baby boy. Usually at the 20-week scan, women are much less inclined to have an abortion due to how much their baby has grown. However, at ten weeks, the decision becomes much easier, which is what experts are largely concerned about.

The worry over designer babies

It isn’t just the gender reveal part of the test which worries experts. It can also potentially detect baby’s eye colour and hair colour. So, there is also a risk it could be used as a designer baby tool.

This has caused a great deal of controversy with many arguing that denying women the right to know the sex of their baby does women a disservice. As Clare Murphy from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service explains: “In the circumstances where a woman is under pressure to produce a child of a particular sex the ethical answer is not to deny every pregnant woman the right to find out information about her own pregnancy, but to do our utmost to challenge misogynistic attitudes, ensure gender equality and access to comprehensive women’s support services so that women can make their own choice about their pregnancy free from coercion.”

When is the best time to discover baby’s sex?

The best time to discover the sex of your baby is at your 20-week ultrasound scan. However, if you’re struggling to wait that long, you could undergo a private scan anywhere from 14 weeks. Any earlier than that and baby may not be developed enough to tell the gender.

The fact the NHS is going to offer NIPT to detect for early chromosomal abnormalities is great news; especially for women who are considered to be having a higher risk pregnancy.