Amniocentesis test: Risks, Procedures, Benefits and more

What is amniocentesis?

Amniocentesis is a prenatal test that allows gathering information about the baby’s health from a sample of your amniotic fluid. Usually the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus contains skin cells and other substances such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). The sample of the fluid is removed through an ultrasound guided needle and sent to laboratory for analysis. Usually this test is performed to detect any genetic disease as Down syndrome, chromosomal abnormality, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy.

Why amniocentesis is performed?

Amniocentesis is not performed on every woman. There is a list of causes that necessitate the amniocentesis as:

-          Being above 35 years old

-          Having an abnormal ultrasound

-          Family history of genetic disease or birth defect

-          Had already a child with birth defect

When amniocentesis is performed?

Usually amniocentesis is performed around the 16th week of pregnancy.

Is there a risk of miscarriage?

There is a probability of less than 1% that amniocentesis can cause miscarriage. It can be also responsible of injuries to the baby and mother, infection, leakage of the fluid and premature contractions.

Can I choose not to perform the amniocentesis?

It is your decision whether to perform it or not. You will receive counseling and your doctor will explain all risks and benefits to you. You will have to compare between knowing about your baby’s health against a small risk of miscarriage.

The decision differs from couple to couple. Some would want to know to anticipate any lifestyle changes and start planning and identifying resources. Others would not perform it since the results would not affect their decision.

It is very important to discuss your decision with your partner and health provider. Amniocentesis is relatively a safe procedure that can provide you with lots of information.

What happens during the procedure?

Your healthcare should ask you to drink lots of fluids before the procedure. Your bladder should be full. This procedure is guided by ultrasound. The doctor will locate the baby’s position then insert a hollow needle through your abdomen to the uterus after disinfecting the area with an antiseptic. A small quantity of the amniotic fluid will be withdrawn and then the needle is removed.

The entire procedure may take 45 min to 1 hour in which the fluid is extracted in 5 min only.

Your doctor may ask you to rest after the amniocentesis. You may experience vaginal bleeding and cramps directly after the procedure. You may return to your normal activities the second day.

The fluid is taken to a laboratory. The results may be available within 1 to 2 weeks.

If you develop fever and if the bleeding and cramps continue, call your doctor immediately.

How can I read the results?

Your doctor will contact you once he receives the results. The amniocentesis detects:

-          Baby gender

-          Chromosomal abnormalities

-          Neural tube defects

-          Genetic disorders

In case they found a birth defect, your doctor will discuss with you several options. Some would terminate the pregnancy and others will decide to continue. In all cases, support and counseling will be offered to you. Seek help and support from your partner.

Amniocentesis test cannot detect some of birth defects as heart malformation or a cleft lip or palate.