Definition - What does Amniocentesis mean?

An amniocentesis is a medical procedure used to diagnose a fetus with chromosomal abnormalities, infections, or sex determinations prior to birth. An amniocentesis may provide a parents with a better understanding of their child’s health and projected outcome, however there certain risks associated with this prenatal testing.

FertilitySmarts explains Amniocentesis

An amniocentesis is conducted by inserting a long hollow needle into a woman’s abdomen. Using the assistance of an ultrasound machine, the needle is guided to the woman’s uterus, where it is inserted into the amniotic sac, the bag of fluids surrounding the fetus. A small sample of liquid is extracted. The fluid is sent to the lab for testing, where analysts run tests to examine:

  • Presence of infection
  • Growth of the fetus’ lungs
  • Genetic testing
  • Chromosome abnormalities
  • Paternity testing

An amniocentesis is typically only conducted if there is reason to believe the fetus may be at unusually high risk of birth defects. This includes:

  • Mothers 35 years of age or older at the time of birth
  • Testing that indicated birth defect or abnormality such as an abnormal triple test
  • History of previous children with birth defects
  • Family history of genetic conditions

The procedure is performed between 14 and 20 weeks of gestation, however some testing may be conducted earlier. However, if testing to determine lung capacity, it is usually conducted immediately prior to delivery.

Prior to and following testing, parents receive counseling on the genetic testing, exam results, intervention and treatment options, along with long-term considerations. The risks of an amneocentsis are minimal but possible, and include:

  • Fetal infection
  • Amniotic fluid leaking
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Miscarriage
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