Tests during pregnancy

In some cases, a learning disability may develop before birth. This could be due to:

  • the baby suffering damage to the brain or spinal cord
  • the mother having an accident or illness during pregnancy
  • a genetic problem developing during pregnancy

If you want to start a family but have concerns about existing genetic problems, you can contact a genetic counsellor through one of the regional genetic centres across the UK.

Some pregnant women are offered extra tests, in addition to regular antenatal check-ups and ultrasounds, if there are concerns about their baby's development. These extra tests include Amniocentesis and Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS).


Amniocentesis is a test that takes place during pregnancy to check on a baby's progress, and to see whether they are likely to develop one of a number of genetic conditions. The test is usually recommended for women over 35, who are at an increased risk during pregnancy because of their age. It may also be recommended for women who have already had a child with a disability, or who have a family history that indicates a problem is more likely to occur.

Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)

CVS is another test that can detect certain genetic disorders. It is an alternative to amniocentesis and can be carried out at an earlier stage of pregnancy.

All tests carried out during pregnancy have risks, so it is important to talk to your doctor and think carefully when deciding whether or not to go ahead.

If tests discover a problem, there may be the possibility of early treatment while the baby is still in the womb. If the problem is serious, parents can choose whether to continue with the pregnancy or have a termination.

Positive About Down's Syndrome offers support for parents and parents to be.

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Our team can offer advice, information and discuss what support Mencap can offer tailored to your needs, in your area.

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