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Pregnancy | Prenatal Care

Amniocentesis

A Definite prenatal test.

Expecting a baby is thrilling. There are so many moments to look forward to: the birth, the first smile, first tooth, first steps… But, as wonderful as pregnancy may be, there is certainly a serious side to it.

In the past, the expectant mother would go through her pregnancy unaided and, to a large degree, unchecked. This “wait and see” approach obviously had its drawbacks, with things often going awry during the 9-month wait or during the birth itself.

Fortunately, huge medical advancements have been made since then, and pregnant women have never before had access to better prenatal care than they do right now.

As a result of this progress, there has been an increase in prenatal diagnostic testing. One of these tests is a procedure known as amniocentesis. You’ve probably heard about this test already, but – if you’re anything like us – you probably still have an impressive list of questions.

To put you in the picture, we’ve answered the 10 most common questions about amniocentesis.

1. What is amniocentesis?

Amniocentesis is a specialized diagnostic procedure done during pregnancy whereby amniotic fluid is removed from the uterus and then tested for specific abnormalities that the baby may have. The procedure is also sometimes done to determine whether or not the foetus’s lungs are developed enough for birth. It also identifies the baby’s gender.

The procedure has an accuracy level of around 99.4% and is considered to be one of the most reliable prenatal tests available.

2. What are the problems that an amniocentesis can detect?

The procedure can identify hundreds of defects, problems and genetic disorders, including:

-          Down’s syndrome

-          Sickle cell disease

-          Cystic fibrosis

-          Muscular dystrophy

-          Edwards’ syndrome

-          Spina bifida

-          Rhesus incompatibility

-          Infection

3. Who should have an amniocentesis?

Specialists advise that you have an amniocentesis if:

-          You’re 35 or older

-          You’ve had abnormal results from other prenatal screening tests

-          Previous babies had chromosomal abnormalities or other defects

-          You have a family history of genetic disorders

-          You or the baby’s father is a carrier of any genetic disorders

-          Infection is suspected in mom or baby

-          It’s necessary to identify severity of amnesia should the foetus have Rh disease

-          Your doctor advises decreasing the volume of amniotic fluid

-          It’s necessary to determine whether the baby’s lungs are mature enough for birth

4. What are the risks?

Because amniocentesis is an invasive procedure, there are risks, although these are low.

Current research shows that miscarriage occurs in less than 1% of women.

Other risks include:

-          Cramping

-          Vaginal bleeding

-          Preterm labour

-          Needle injury to baby

-          Leaking of amniotic fluid

-          Infection

-          Infection transmission

5. How is amniocentesis performed?

The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, lying still on your back with a full bladder.

Generally, a local anaesthetic isn’t necessary, but may given.

These are the steps your doctor will follow:

-          Baby’s position will be detected with ultrasound

-          Antiseptic is applied to clean your abdomen

-          A thin, hollow needle is inserted into the uterus via the abdominal wall

-          A sample of amniotic fluid is extracted into a syringe

-          The needle is withdrawn

-          The baby’s heart rate is monitored for a while after the procedure

6. At what stage of pregnancy is the procedure done?

Genetic amniocentesis is usually carried out after week 15 of pregnancy (the second trimester), by which stage sufficient amniotic fluid will surround the baby.

The procedure is also done when early delivery is best for the mother. This test to assess the development of the baby’s lungs is known as maturity amniocentesis.

7. Does it hurt?

Amniocentesis causes discomfort more than it does pain.

You could possibly experience:

-          A stinging sensation

-          Mild cramping of the uterus

-          Vaginal bleeding

8. How long will I have to wait for the results?

Generally, results will be available 2-3 weeks following the procedure. This delay is due to the sample going through karyotyping, a process which involves growing the baby’s cells to the point where diagnosis is possible.

9. What happens if the outcome is worrying?

Should your baby present with an untreatable condition, you’ll need to decide whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy. This is extremely heart-wrenching, so you will need the love and support of friends and family during this time, as well as a session with your genetic counsellor.

10. Is there anything else I should know about amniocentesis?

-          Make sure you have a full bladder before the procedure

-          Get a friend to drive you home afterwards, then rest

-          Call your doctor in the case of fever, heavy bleeding, discharge or severe cramps


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