If you were around in the 1980s, you may remember the brouhaha about Murphy Brown. Brown was the main character on a popular sitcom, and she had chosen to have a child without being married. A firestorm of criticism followed, and a firestorm of criticism of the criticism followed that. It was wild. Worse yet, she didn’t even know who the father was.
Times have changed. Now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the births to women under the age of 30 are to unmarried women. Some of those women don’t know who the father is, either, but they do want to know, because they want child support from the father.
It is often better to establish paternity before the baby is born, but that involves an invasive procedure. Doctors have used amniocentesis, for example, or chorionic villus sampling to determine the identity of the father, just as those tests are used to determine if the baby has Down syndrome. These procedures are common, but they do carry a small risk of miscarriage. As a result, doctors prefer not to use them for paternity testing.
That leaves the testing until after the baby is born, and research suggests that the delay could have a harmful effect on both the mother and the baby. One study showed that the financial and emotional support of the father during the pregnancy was a factor in having a healthier baby. Another found a higher infant mortality rate among babies when the father was not listed on the birth certificate. This study even excluded teenage moms.
Two companies are marketing a new test that can be done in the eighth or ninth week of the pregnancy. We will go into more detail in our next post.
Source: The New York Times, “Before Birth, Dad’s ID,” Andrew Pollack, June 19, 2012