Real Money: Genetic screenings for new mothers

When you're expecting a new bundle of joy, you're probably thinking about nursery themes, whether or not to spring for all-natural bath products, even mulling over the perfect name. The last thing on your mind are likely genetic screenings for your unborn child.

No one wants to get the news that their baby may have a genetic condition, but being prepared for any potential issues can make a world of difference when it comes to adjusting emotionally, securing necessary resources, and educating yourself before labor and delivery. Plus, provided your plan allows these types of expenses, genetic testing is FSA-eligible.

If a genetic test comes back without any markers? That's one less thing you have to worry about as a parent. You'll be worrying about that little human for the rest of your life, so this is welcome news.

How does it work?

Keep in mind, we're not doctors. Before making any decisions regarding your medical care or care for your unborn child, be sure to talk to a qualified medical professional first.

If you opt for genetic testing when you're pregnant (and you can also choose not to), you'll get a simple blood test, usually at your OBGYN's office or at a separate testing center.

The test will screen for abnormal genes that can cause certain genetic diseases. They usually screen for recessive genes, which are essentially carrier genes for certain genetic disorders. If your test comes back normal – meaning, you're not a carrier – your partner doesn't need to be tested.

But if your test shows that you're a carrier for a certain disease, your partner will then need to be tested to see if they are also a carrier. But don't panic. Even if your partner is also a carrier, the baby still only has a chance of getting the disease -- and could still be perfectly healthy. For example, if you are both carriers for cystic fibrosis, the baby would have a 25% chance of inheriting the disease.

Worth noting: There are several other screenings and diagnostic tests to learn more about the health of your unborn baby. But for the purpose of this piece, we're focusing on genetic screening.

What are they screening for?

Before we go any further, take this piece of advice – do not, under any circumstances, Google these diseases. You'll not only worry yourself unnecessarily, you'll also likely come up with a lot questionable or untrue information. In this case, Dr. Google is not your friend.

Genetic screenings usually focus on the most common genetic diseases:

  • Cystic fibrosis - a progressive, life-threatening disease marked by persistent lung infections and limited ability to breathe.
  • Sickle cell disease - a blood disorder in which the red blood cells are

C-shaped, which can cause issues such as infection and stroke.

  • Thalassemia - a blood disorder in which the body has less hemoglobin and red blood cells than it should, which can cause anemia and other health issues.
  • Fragile X Syndrome - a genetic condition that causes cognitive impairment, learning disabilities, and other developmental issues.
  • Tay-Sachs Disease - a genetic disorder that causes fatty buildup in the brain, which destroys nerve cells.

If you find yourself dealing with a potential genetic disorder, ask your doctor for more information. Or research using a reputable website, like the Mayo Clinic or the Johns Hopkins Medical Library. It also may be helpful to connect with a support group for any potential genetic issues.

Dealing with the bills

Before you opt for a genetic screening test during pregnancy, be sure to check with your health insurance provider to see what's covered, since these screenings can be pricey.

When speaking with your health insurance rep, it's also wise to record the time, date, and name of the person you're speaking with, as well as the reference number for the conversation. This can make things infinitely easier to resolve should a payment issue arise.

Genetic testing is also FSA-eligible, which helps make a potentially stressful situation a little less so. While the genetic screening process can no doubt be stressful for both mom and dad alike, it's not all bad. Many tests can now detect the gender of your unborn child, which can be a fun surprise. After all, it's never too early to start decorating the nursery.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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