If your doctor has told you that you should consider an amniocentesis during your pregnancy, you probably have many concerns and questions about what to expect from this procedure. There are many different reasons why your physician might be suggesting this test, and understanding the basics of the procedure will help you to make an informed decision. The more you understand about what to expect, the calmer you will probably feel about your amniocentesis.
What is an Amniocentesis?
This procedure consists of drawing amniotic fluid from the uterus during pregnancy using a fine needle, and under the guidance of ultrasound images. The amniotic fluid, which has a consistency similar to water, is what surrounds the baby during pregnancy. It contains cells from your baby, as well as chemicals produced by your baby that indicate many things about his or her health. The fluid sample is then examined under a microscope.
Why an Amniocentesis?
There are many reasons why your doctor might be suggesting that you have an amniocentesis. Depending upon your individual circumstances during pregnancy, your doctor might be checking for:
- Certain genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome or a neural tube defect – this is known as genetic amniocentesis – and is usually done after the 15th week of pregnancy
- Lung maturity, perhaps in trying to determine lung capacity and functioning if your baby needs to be delivered early (between 32 and 39 weeks) – this is known as maturity amniocentesis
- Other infections or suspected illnesses and conditions, including Rh sensitization
What should I expect during my amniocentesis?
After you have carefully discussed your options and discussed the need for and potential risks of the amniocentesis with your doctor, you will most likely be asked to sign a consent form for the procedure. Almost all amnios are conducted as an outpatient procedure, and you should be given specific instructions depending upon your individual circumstances.
- If you are less than 20 weeks along, you will likely be informed that you need to have a full bladder for the procedure. This will help present your uterus more forward and easier to access.
- You will lie down on your back and need to remain as still as possible during the procedure.
- An ultrasound will be used to determine the precise position of your baby during the procedure.
- Your abdomen will be cleaned with an antiseptic to prevent infection possibilities during the procedure.
- The physician will insert a thin needle through your abdomen and into your uterus, and then draw out a small amount of amniotic fluid (usually an ounce or less – but the amount depends upon how far along you are in pregnancy).
The amniocentesis procedure typically takes between 20 and 30 minutes. You will likely feel stinging where the needle is inserted, and might experience cramping as the needle enters your uterus. Your doctor may monitor your baby’s heart rate after the procedure with an abdominal heart rate monitor. It is generally advised that you rest for a day or two following the procedure.
When will I get my results?
Depending upon the reason for your procedure and the availability of lab technology in your area, the results may take anywhere from 72 hours up to more than two weeks when screening for certain chromosomal abnormalities. Check with your doctor before the procedure to get a complete understanding of when the results are expected and to make your follow-up appointment to discuss those results.