Iowa Maternal Prenatal Screening Program

A screening test to identify increased risk for having a baby with a number of defects is available for all women during pregnancy in Iowa. For most women, it will show low risk. There are a series of screens that may be offered to further explore potential risks. Though these tests do not directly diagnose birth defects, they can help you and your health care provider decide when other steps may be of value.

Top things for you to know about the maternal screening program:

  • The screening tests primarily detect Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 and neural tube defects and are available to all women during pregnancy.
  • The screening is typically done in two stages. The first is during the first trimester of pregnancy and involves an ultrasound and a blood sample, while the second is done between 15 – 20 weeks of pregnancy and involves another blood sample.
  • A screen-positive result does not necessarily mean that your baby has Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 or an open neural tube defect, only that there is an increased chance for one of these problems.
  • A screen-negative result provides reassurance but does not guarantee that your baby is healthy, only that there is a decreased chance for Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 and open neural tube defects.
  • With a screen-positive, you will be offered an ultrasound and may be offered a diagnostic test such to find out if the developing baby has a chromosome abnormality or birth defect.
  • If you are too far along for the first screen, a result may still be calculated using just the second screen.
  • If you miss the second screen, a result may still be calculated using the information from the first screen, though this alone cannot screen for open neural tube defects.
  • An integrated, two-step approach is a more effective screen for Down syndrome and Trisomy 18 than either screens alone.
  • Even though most babies will be healthy, the period of screening and testing can be a stressful time. If a problem is found you will need support and guidance.

Disclaimer: The specimen and information obtained during the testing process becomes the property of the State of Iowa unless specifically prohibited in writing by the person being tested. This allows for program evaluation and research to improve the health of mothers and children. There are no known risk from participation in these studies, and no personally identifiable information is revealed in the publishing of these studies. Though there may not be any personal benefit from participation, the studies advocate for better health of those in future generations. Current studies can be found here.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact the Iowa Maternal Screening Program at 319-356-3561.

 If you have questions about the rights of research subjects, please contact the Human Subjects Office, 300 College of Medicine Administration Building, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, 319-335-6564.

To offer input about your experiences as a research subject or to speak with someone other than the research staff, call the Human Subjects Office at the number above.

The Maternal Screening Program is administered by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Questions regarding this program may be directed to the state genetics coordinator at 1-800-383-3826.

Want to learn more? Check out this maternal screening pamphlet.

Folic Acid

Folic Acid and Pregnancy

Folic acid is a B vitamin that our bodies use to make new cells. Folic acid in the body before pregnancy can help prevent major birth defects of the brain and spine, or neural tube defects. There is also research showing that it may protect against heart disease, cervical, colon and possibly breast cancer.

Before and during the early stages of pregnancy, a woman should take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid as part of a healthy diet. Natural sources of folic acid can be found in beans, leafy green vegetables and orange juice.

If you have had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube birth defect, increase the dosage to 4,000 micrograms of folic acid daily at least one month before trying to become pregnant. Continue through the first three months of your pregnancy.

It is important to have a conversation with your health care provider about other healthy habits before and during pregnancy.

For additional information, please utilize these resources: