Considering your family’s genes when planning for a baby

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Planning to have a baby can be one of the most exciting times in an individual’s or couple’s lives.

However, it is also a time to take certain factors, such as you and your partner’s personal and family health history, into consideration to better ensure you and your baby’s health and safety.

While reviewing both family histories, it is important to focus on any known genetic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia; birth defects, such as spina bifida or congenital heart disease; intellectual disabilities; and a history of multiple miscarriages.

Genetic counselors are trained to evaluate these histories in detail and assess the chance for occurrence.

Certain environmental factors should also be taken into consideration when planning for a baby, as many birth defects may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

For instance, certain medications can interfere with a pregnancy and increase risk for birth defects.

Substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, also increase risk of complications during pregnancy and risk of various health conditions in the infant.

The general population risk for a birth defect is approximately 3 to 5 percent. Women who are planning to have a baby are encouraged to begin taking folic acid supplements on a daily basis to help lower the chance for birth defects, such as open spina bifida.

Women with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, or epilepsy should work with their healthcare provider to have them properly managed by their physician before conceiving and during pregnancy.

For those planning for a baby who are concerned about their personal or family health history and how it will factor into the pregnancy and health of the baby, talk to your doctor about a referral to genetic counseling services.

The Center for Maternal Fetal Care at Cone Health Women’s Hospital has partnered with Wake Forest Baptist Health to provide an exceptional team of genetic counselors who work with and help individuals and couples through the process of planning for a baby.

To learn more about genetic counseling, prenatal screening options and other services available at Cone Health Women’s Hospital’s Center for Maternal Fetal Care, please call (336) 832-6986 or visit

Spokesperson Background:
Karen Corneliussen is a genetic counselor at Cone Health Women’s Hospital Center for Maternal Fetal Care and at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Corneliussen received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004, and received a Master of Science in genetic counseling at the University of South Carolina in 2007.