After the birth of a child with a congenital anomaly, parents have many questions about cause, prognosis, and recurrence risk. An important means of transmitting such information is referral to a genetic clinic. We were interested in knowing what determines whether or not parents are referred for genetic counseling. Data from the local registration of congenital anomalies in the northeastern Netherlands (birth years 1981-1986; 1,217 children/fetuses) and data of the local genetic clinic were compared. The parents of 204 cases (16.8%) had been referred for genetic counseling. Of the couples referred, 76% were referred within one year after birth, usually by a pediatrician (48%). Parents of children with a single anomaly, recognized syndrome, or multiple anomalies not recognized as a syndrome were referred in 5%, 43%, and 26% of cases, respectively. Parents of liveborn children who died were referred in 38% of cases, parents of liveborn/still-alive and stillborn children in 13% and 22%, respectively. Previous affected sibs and absence of previous livebirths increased the likelihood of referral.