Fluid from the sac around an unborn baby can give clues to serious birth defects, but amniocentesis can be stressful for you and the baby.
Read these key questions and answers to learn more about this important test.
I am an older mom, and it’s now been recommended that I have an amniocentesis. What is it exactly?
Often known as an amnio, this test is usually as quick and painless as taking a blood test. It’s just a small prick. However, it does bring a slight risk of miscarriage and if signs are shown of a birth defect in your baby it can lead to very difficult decisions about what you’ll do next, which is why it can be a big deal.
What happens is that the doctor guides a long, thin needle through your abdomen, using ultrasound to see where the foetus and placenta is lying, and to find a suitable pocket to extract amniotic fluid. From this fluid valuable information can be gleaned.
What is the best stage for an amnio and how safe is it?
The safest time to do an amniocentesis is at 16 weeks. It can be performed earlier, but the miscarriage risk is then higher. In experienced hands the risk of miscarriage after an amnio is very low – only one in 400. After the test you may feel cramping, but usually only for a short time.
Aside from the risk of miscarriage other complications are rare, but can be serious. For example, the placenta, foetus or umbilical cord could be punctured inadvertently, causing injuries ranging from minor bruises to major intrauterine haemorrhage.
When might I need an amniocentesis?
Your doctor may recommend that you have the test if you:
• Or your partner have a family history of genetic disorders
• Or your baby is suspected of having an infection
• Are over the age of 35
• Received an abnormal screening-test result
• Have had a previous pregnancy with a chromosome abnormality or birth defect