Decision making following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome: an integrative review

J Midwifery Womens Health. 2012 Mar-Apr;57(2):156-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-2011.2011.00109.x. Epub 2012 Feb 3.


Introduction: Prenatal screening for Down syndrome (DS) is a routine part of prenatal care in many countries, and there is growing interest in the choices women make following a prenatal diagnosis of DS. This review describes what is known about actual and hypothetical decision making following a prenatal diagnosis of DS and adds understanding about the factors that influence women's decision making.

Methods: A search of empirical studies was conducted through electronic databases, major journals, and reference lists that were published in English between January 1999 and September 2010. Inclusion criteria were that the research explored attitudes toward continuation of pregnancy or induced abortion for DS and included at least 1 variable that explored factors influencing women's decision making following a prenatal diagnosis of DS. Studies that did not specify DS, unpublished manuscripts, review articles, and book chapters were excluded.

Results: A total of 11 studies were identified that met the inclusion criteria. The decision to undergo an induced abortion varied depending on whether participants were prospective parents recruited from the general population (23%-33% would terminate), pregnant women at increased risk for having a child with DS (46%-86% would terminate), or women who received a positive diagnosis of DS during the prenatal period (89%-97% terminated). Multiple factors influence women's decision making following a diagnosis of DS, including demographic factors such as religion, maternal age, gestational age, number of existing children, and history of induced abortion. Psychosocial factors including perceived parenting burden/reward, quality of life for a child with DS, attitudes toward and comfort with individuals with disabilities, and support from others also are important influences.

Discussion: Multiple factors influence the decisions pregnant women make following the diagnosis of fetal DS. Therefore, it is critical that health care providers who work with pregnant women are aware of these factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Decision Making*
  • Down Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*