paternity test

Prenatal Paternity Testing - The Methods And The Risks

When you simply have to know

Pregnancy … what a joyful time in a woman's life. A time when she can enjoy the changes in her body, look forward to the arrival of her new son or daughter, and bask in the contentment that childbearing commonly brings.

Or not.

What if there are questions as to the paternity of the child? What if the woman was impregnated against her will as in the case of rape? What if she doesn't want the baby if it turns out that the father is not whom she first believed?

The science of human biotechnology has developed to solve these issues one way or another. DNA testing has been a reliable method of proving the identity of a person for some years, and as its sophistication increases, so too do the number of options available. Prenatal paternity testing is fairly commonplace nowadays with women opting for the procedure to remove any doubts before the baby is born.

How is it done?
A specimen of DNA needs to be obtained from each of the parents as well as the fetus. There are two methods involved in collecting fluids while the baby is in utero:

Chorionic Villi Sampling, or CVS can be performed between the tenth and thirteenth weeks of pregnancy. For this procedure, a doctor will insert a catheter through the vagina or will use a long, hollow needle through the abdomen to obtain cells from the placenta. The method used depends on the baby's position in the uterus.

Alternatively, amniocentesis will be performed between the fourteenth and twenty-fourth weeks of pregnancy. The doctor uses a needle through the abdomen to extract some amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.

These fluid samples will be matched with buccal (cheek) swabs given by the mother and alleged father. The lab will construct a DNA profile of the baby to compare with the buccal samples and will attempt to determine paternity.

Are there risks?
Unfortunately both methods of harvesting cells from the baby carry risks so it is ill advised to proceed without being fully informed.

  • Injury to mother or fetus from the needle. There is the potential for placental puncture but this usually heals without further concern.
  • Since the procedure allows bacteria into the amniotic sac, it's possible to develop an infection however this is rare.
  • There is a slight risk of the mother's blood being exposed to the fetus's blood. This is only problematic if the mother's is rhesus-negative and the baby's is rhesus-positive.
  • Amniocentesis carries a risk of producing clubfoot in the baby, however the potential for this to occur is higher if the procedure takes place before the fifteenth week of pregnancy.

Determining paternity is something that mothers would most likely prefer to be kept very private. Often her reputation is at stake, or there are legal reasons why publicity would not be in her best interests. The circumstances surrounding the conception of her baby may have been traumatic, or perhaps something of which not to be particularly proud. Fortunately the field of genetics is highly professional and all cases are handled with utmost sensitivity. When what matters are accurate results, for better or worse, prenatal paternity testing is a very reliable science.


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