Your pregnancy and baby guide
Termination for foetal abnormality
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If tests show your baby has a serious abnormality (anomaly), find out as much as you can from your doctor about the condition and how it might affect your baby.
Hearing the diagnosis can be very shocking and you may find it hard to take in. You may need to go back and talk to the doctor with your partner or someone close to you.
Spend some time thinking things through. The charity Antenatal Results and Choices offers information and support for people who have received a diagnosis after antenatal screening. Its helpline is answered by trained staff:
- Monday to Friday, 10am to 5.30pm
- on 0845 077 2290 (or 020 7713 7487 from a mobile)
You may be offered a termination to end the pregnancy. Some couples wish to continue with the pregnancy and prepare for the needs of their newborn baby, while others decide to terminate the pregnancy (have an abortion).
There are 2 main types of termination:
- medical termination – taking medicine to end the pregnancy
- surgical termination – a procedure to remove the pregnancy
You should be offered a choice of which method you would prefer whenever possible.
A medical termination allows for a detailed examination of the baby (post-mortem) that can help find out the exact nature of the baby's abnormalities.
Tests can be done after both a medical and surgical termination to see if the baby was carrying a genetic disorder.
This may help your doctor to determine the chance of a future baby having a similar problem.
A medical termination involves taking medicine to end the pregnancy. It doesn't require surgery or an anaesthetic, and can be used at any stage of pregnancy.
It involves the following steps:
- Taking a medicine to stop an essential pregnancy hormone. Without this hormone, the pregnancy can't continue.
- Usually 24 to 48 hours later, you have another appointment where you take a second medicine – either a tablet that you take by mouth or put inside your vagina. You may need more than 1 dose.
- The lining of the womb breaks down, causing bleeding and loss of the pregnancy. This may take up to 24 hours.
When a medical termination is carried out after 9 weeks of pregnancy, you're more likely to need to stay overnight in the clinic or hospital.
Occasionally, the pregnancy doesn't pass and a small operation is needed to remove it.
Surgical termination involves having a procedure with either:
- local anaesthetic (where the area is numbed)
- conscious sedation (where you're relaxed but awake)
- general anaesthetic (where you're asleep)
There are 2 methods.
Vacuum or suction aspiration
This can be used up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. It involves inserting a tube through the entrance to the womb (the cervix). The pregnancy is then removed using suction.
A general anaesthetic isn't usually needed.
Vacuum aspiration takes 5 to 10 minutes, and most women go home a few hours later.
Dilatation and evacuation (D&E)
This is used from around 15 weeks of pregnancy. It involves inserting special instruments called forceps through the cervix and into the womb to remove the pregnancy.
D&E is carried out with conscious sedation or general anaesthetic. It normally takes 10 to 20 minutes, and you might be able to go home the same day.
Seeing and holding your baby
You may wish to think beforehand about whether you want to see and perhaps hold your baby, and whether you want to give your baby a name.
If you don't want to see the baby, you could ask hospital staff to take a photograph for you in case you change your mind in the future. The photograph can be kept in your notes.
Holding your baby or having a photograph is only possible with a medical termination of pregnancy.
Having a funeral
You may wish to think about having a burial or cremation for your baby. Talk to the doctor or nurse at your hospital about your options.
After a termination
It can help to talk. If your family and friends find it difficult to understand what you're going through, you could make contact with people who have had a similar experience. Antenatal Results and Choices can help.
Visit healthtalk.org to watch video interviews with women talking about their decision to end their pregnancy because of foetal abnormality.
Page last reviewed: 04/10/2019
Next review due: 04/10/2022