Understanding amniocentesis: Procedure, risk and results

During your pregnancy, your Atlanta physician offers a lot of advice, recommends tests and checks the...

During your pregnancy, your Atlanta physician offers a lot of advice, recommends tests and checks the fetus's health. It's vital to understand everything about an amniocentesis because it's a test your physician may recommend during your pregnancy. This test is different from an ultrasound. To get the needed fluid, the physician must take a sample from the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus in your womb. The fluid has various chemicals and fetal cells produced by your baby. You physician recommends the test for different reasons. However, all the reasons focus on the current and future health of the fetus. Again, the procedure isn't a test your physician can make you undergo. It's your choice. Although this test gives invaluable information about your baby's health, the decision to undergo the test shouldn't be taken lightly. Like with any other test, it's important to understand the procedure, risk and possible results.

Reasons for the procedure

This prenatal test is typically offered at different stages of your pregnancy. The genetic form of this prenatal test provides information about the fetus's genetic make-up. Your physician offers the test when you have an abnormal ultrasound or are over the age of 35. The procedure is also given when you have a family history of birth defects or had an earlier child with a birth defect.

The test does not detect every chromosomal or genetic disorder. However, it can detect the following problems:

  • Down syndrome
  • Tay-Sachs
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Neural tube defects (anencephaly and spina bifida)

You may be offered a different form of the test called maturity, which determines if your baby's lungs are developed enough for you to give birth. You undergo this procedure when you're having complications and may need to deliver early. If complications happen during weeks 32 to 39, you're offered this test. Before 32 weeks your baby's lungs aren't fully developed, so there's no need for the maturity test.

If your physician doesn't need to check for genetics or lung development, he or she may want to check the baby. For example, he or she may want to find out if your baby has an infection or illness. The prenatal test also evaluates how progressive anemia is in a baby with Rh disease.

Other reasons for the procedure include decreasing the amount of amniotic fluid or diagnosing an infection of the uterus.

Risks associated with procedure

This test does have risks to you and the fetus. You may have a miscarriage. In the second trimester, the producer does carry a slight risk of miscarriage. Typically, one in 300 and one in 500 women who undergo the test have a miscarriage in the second trimester. The miscarriage risk does increase if you have the procedure before you research the 15 weeks of pregnancy. Week 15 is generally three months and one week into your pregnancy.

There are risks to your baby. For example, the needle may puncture the baby's arm if he or she moves during the procedure. However, needle injuries rarely occur. If you have an infection such as human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis C or toxoplasmosis, the procedure may transfer the infection from you to your baby.

After the test, your amniotic fluid may leak through your vagina. Although this rarely occurs, if it does happen the leak typically seals. However, when it doesn't seal, the leak can lead to orthopedic problems for your unborn baby.

There are risks to the mother, too. You may experience vaginal bleeding and cramping after the test. You're also at risk for developing a uterine infection. If you have Rh negative blood, you'll receive Rh immunoglobulin after the procedure. During the test, your baby's blood cells may transfer to your bloodstream. The drug prevents you from producing antibodies against the fetus's blood cells.

The procedure

The procedure is done by your Atlanta physician in his or her office or an outpatient facility. Before the test you must drink a lot of fluid. A full bladder is required for the ultrasound that happens during the procedure. You undergo an ultrasound to find the precise location of your baby in your uterus.

You don't receive anesthesia. So, you may experience discomfort during the test. Your physician inserts a hollow, thin needle into your uterus through your abdominal wall. He or she withdraws a small volume of amniotic fluid into the syringe attached to the needle.

After the procedure, your physician uses your ultrasound to check the baby's heart rate. During this time, you may experience vaginal bleeding or cramping.


Your results take about two to three weeks to come back from the laboratory. If your result is normal, your baby has no chromosomal or genetic problems. The alpha fetoprotein and bilirubin levels are normal, too. Normal numbers vary among different laboratories.

An abnormal result indicates your baby may have a chromosomal or genetic health condition. Typically, the prenatal test is 99.4 percent correct. However, failure to gather enough fluid or cells to culture may cause the test to come back inaccurate or unsuccessful.

Taking care of your baby starts before he or she is born. Before you decide if an amniocentesis is best for you and your baby, you may want to ask for a second opinion. It's important you feel comfortable with whatever decision you make about the health of your baby.

Popular on Kudzu

  1. Choosing an eye doctor
  2. Acupuncture 101
  3. Choosing a personal trainer
  4. Gardening tips for allergies
  5. Choosing a health club

ENJOY THIS ARTICLE? Sign up for more articles, tips and savings