Can paternity testing be done before the child is born?

Yes. Prenatal paternity testing can be performed in two ways: invasively or non-invasively. The most common invasive method involves a procedure called amniocentesis, in which a physician collects (using a long needle) a small amount of amniotic fluid from the womb of the expectant mother between 15 – 25 weeks post-conception. Amniotic fluid contains cells from the fetus but not cells from the mother, and is analyzed using the same established technology as standard (non-prenatal) paternity tests. As a result, paternity tests performed using amniotic fluid samples are fully defensible in a court of law, provided that all samples were collected under a strict chain of custody.  Due to potential risks involved, consultation with an obstetrician is strongly advised when considering amniocentesis.

Non-invasive prenatal paternity testing, a safer alternative which has become available recently, permits detection and analysis of fetal DNA markers using a blood sample collected from the expectant mother on or after 8 weeks post-conception. While accurate, non-invasive prenatal paternity tests have not yet been approved by AABB, have had little exposure in the courts, and thus may not be the better choice if legal admissibility of the results is critical. Prenatal paternity tests are much more costly (usually $500 – $1000 more) than paternity tests performed after the child is born. Health insurance may cover the cost of collection of prenatal samples, but usually only if the procedure is also being performed for medical reasons (such as testing for Down syndrome).

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