Pregnancy Screening: What Happens When You and Partner Both Have the Sickle Cell Trait?

Posted on: 8 June 2017


One of the most important antenatal screenings is the test for the sickle cell trait (SCT), which determines whether you're a carrier for sickle cell disease. Many people diagnosed with SCT are surprised to discover that they could be a carrier for sickle cell disease despite being healthy. If you and your partner have just been told you both tested positive for SCT, you may be worried about what happens next. Here's everything you need to know about your diagnosis and options:

Will Your Baby Have Sickle Cell Disease?

While you and your partner may both have SCT, that doesn't mean your baby is guaranteed to have sickle cell disease or even have the trait. Because SCT is recessive, your baby has a 1 in 2 chance of being an SCT carrier and a 1 in 4 chance of having sickle cell disease. If your child inherits the trait but not the disease, he or she will be healthy.

How Can You Know if Your Baby Will Have the Disease?

Many parents who are both SCT carriers want to know if their baby has the disease before he or she is born. This is often because they want to prepare for the child's future or terminate the pregnancy if their unborn baby is diagnosed with the disease.

If you do want to know in advance, there are two antenatal care tests you can have: chorionic villus sampling (placenta analysis) or amniocentesis (amniotic fluid analysis). Both these tests involve using a needle to collect a sample. Unlike parental screening for SCT, these diagnostic tests do come with risks. CVS and amniocentesis both have a 0.7% risk of miscarriage and could cause rhesus disease in your baby if you're rhesus negative and your baby is rhesus positive.

Do You Have to Have the Diagnostic Test?

Even if both you and your partner are both SCT positive, you do not have to undergo CVS or amniocentesis testing if you don't want to. There are many reasons why parents choose to forgo testing, including religious beliefs and indifference towards the outcome. 

What Should You Do if You Continue With the Pregnancy?

If your baby tests positive for sickle cell disease and you wish to continue with the pregnancy, or if you are continuing without diagnostic testing, the following months can be a worrying time. While sickle cell disease can be difficult for many people to live with, others can lead relatively normal lives. The most important thing to do is avoid getting stressed and anxious, as this can make the pregnancy and months after birth more difficult. If you're struggling with negative feelings, ask your antenatal clinic for a referral to a counselling service for parents in your position.