What your baby’s DNA determines (and doesn’t)

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Is your baby going to have your eyes? Your partner’s thick hair? Your sense of humor? After your little one is born, and as they grow, you’ll have the chance to watch for all of the traits they do inherit from you, and all of the traits that are all your little one’s own.

But there are some aspects of your growing baby’s physical health and appearance that are already determined by their DNA. And with non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), parents have the opportunity to get a sneak peek at some aspects of their growing babies’ health even before delivery.

What your baby’s DNA can tell you

For something microscopic, DNA is packed full of information, from your baby’s sex to their eye color, and maybe even whether or not they will like the taste of cilantro. DNA can also indicate the presence or absence of genetic abnormalities which are associated with certain health risks.

NIPT in particular can tell you a lot of useful information. It can detect your baby’s sex as early as week 10! NIPT can also test for many genetic abnormalities, including:

  • Down syndrome
  • Trisomy 18
  • Trisomy 13
  • Extra or missing copies of the X or Y chromosomes
  • Additional chromosomal disorders

NIPT is a screening test, which means that it can’t diagnose a disorder, it can only tell whether a fetus is at a higher or lower risk for that disorder.

What your baby’s DNA can’t show

Think of DNA as more of a blueprint for what the final product (your baby!) is going to end up looking like, rather than a photograph. This means that a lot of the information in their DNA, if you could look at it and read what you were seeing, would tell you what they have a tendency towards.

For example, your little one’s DNA stores about 80% of the information about what their eventual adult height is going to be, but that last 20%, which includes nutrition, environment, and other factors which may not even exist yet, is also going to determine whether they will always look up to you or whether they will eventually tower over you.

This balance between your baby’s DNA and the things they're going to experience after they are born makes their DNA a powerful tool for finding out about a higher likelihood of birth defects. But it can’t be used for finding out about health concerns which may develop differently based on their environment as they grow, like asthma. Genetics play a part in the person your little one is going to grow up to be, but they’re one piece of the puzzle, and your family will find the rest of the pieces together as they grow.

To learn more about NIPT, tap the link below.

Learn more

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Noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) is a screening test; it is not diagnostic. Results should be confirmed by diagnostic testing prior to making any pregnancy management decisions.

  • “Is eye color determined by genetics?” Genetics Home Reference. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2015. Web. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/traits/eyecolor.
  • “Is height determined by genetics?” Genetics Home Reference. U.S. National Library of Medicine, November 2017. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/traits/height.
  • “What is noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) and what disorders can it screen for?” Genetics Home Reference. U.S. National Library of Medicine, August 2018. Web. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/testing/nipt.
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