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What Is Amniocentesis?

The thought of having an unhealthy baby is frightening, but there are tests you can undergo to get past the fear to discover the truth. Amniocentesis is a process of sampling and testing the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby.

Developed in the late 1880’s, this test is now used to screen for birth defects such as Down’s Syndrome, Spina Bifida, and other problems.

It can also be used later in a pregnancy to determine if the baby’s lungs have developed enough for delivery, to drain dangerously high levels of fluid or to test to see if an Rh factor baby is in need of a blood tranfusion

Who Needs Amniocentesis? 
Amniocentesis isn’t offered to all pregnant women because there is a slight risk of miscarriage. However, you’ll probably feel better having amniocentesis done if you’re:

  • Over 35
  • Have maternal blood screening that’s come back as a risk for birth defects
  • Had a previous child with a birth defect
  • If a particular birth defect runs in your partner’s or your family
  • If your baby has Rh factor

How Is It Done? 
During the 15-20th week of pregnancy, you’ll go into the doctor’s office. With the assistance of an ultrasound to see inside the uterus, the doctor will insert a long needle through your belly and into a pocket of amniotic fluid. A few tablespoons of fluid are removed and the sampling is over. The doctor will monitor the ultrasound image and the fetal heart rate to make sure the baby is safe and comfortable during and after the procedure.

Does It Hurt? 
Most women feel nothing or experience a slight cramping when the needle enters the uterine wall or when fluid is removed. You may have to take it easy for the rest of the day and watch for signs of spotting. But considering the depth of knowledge you’ll receive from this test, it is well worth the slight discomfort you may feel.

What Are The Risks? 
Amniocentesis is relatively harmless to you and your baby, but in rare cases a miscarriage can happen after the sampling process. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates one woman out of 200-400 women will suffer a miscarriage. The risk of miscarriage increases if the amniocentesis is performed in the first trimester, which is why other testing methods are preferred then. However, amniocentesis offers the most comprehensive and detailed data you can get while your baby is in your uterus. You’ll want to weigh the amount of information gained with the risk when making your decision.

How Soon Will I know? 
It takes around 3 weeks to get results back, as the samples are sent to a special lab to grow the skin cells found inside the fluid. These are then tested for birth defects and other problems.

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