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  Pregnancy eMagazine

Having an amniocentesis

An amniocentesis is a test of your amniotic fluid, the fluid that the fetus floats in. This very accurate test can detect or rule out certain birth defects.

Not all pregnant women have an amniocentesis. If your doctor recommends one for you, it is probably because you fall into one or more of these categories:

  • You will be 35 or over when you give birth.
  • You or your partner have a family history of certain birth defects.
  • You have had a positive alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test (also known as the multiple screen or "triple" test), which indicates that there may be a risk for certain birth defects.

Amniocentesis is usually performed early in the second trimester. To do the test, a doctor inserts a thin needle into the abdominal wall and withdraws some fluid.

Small risks

Amniocentesis does have risks, but they are very small. Before you have an amniocentesis, your doctor will explain the procedure to you, and tell you about the risks. But sometimes it's hard to remember everything you hear during a doctor's appointment. So if you still have questions after your discussion with your doctor, don't hesitate to ask them.

Deciding to have an "amnio"

Choosing for or against an amniocentesis depends on your beliefs.

Many women (and their partners) are eager to know as much as they can about the health of their fetus. And almost everyone feels nervous while waiting for the results of an amniocentesis.

  • Often, the results bring good news because most babies do not have chromosomal abnormalities.
  • But sometimes, the results show that the fetus has an abnormality, such as Down syndrome or spina bifida (a condition in which the spine has not closed normally).

So before you have an amniocentesis, you and your partner should ask yourselves what you will do if you find out that the fetus has problems. You might want to know whatever you can in advance, so that you can prepare yourselves to care for a child with special needs. Or perhaps you already know that you would end the pregnancy if you were to find out that there were problems.

If you know that you would continue with your pregnancy no matter what the amniocentesis results are, then the test may not be for you.

If your doctor recommends the test, but you and your partner have decided that you don't want to have it, tell your doctor how you feel about it. You may want to say something like, "Thank you for explaining the procedure to me, and for telling me why you recommend it. I understand what you've told me, but I have decided not to go through with it."


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Source: Health Online, Inc.

First published: 11/02/1999
Last updated: 10/14/2007

Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Medical Clinic-Coon Rapids Women's Health