What is amniocentesis?

Amniocentesis is an in uterine test conducted to detect a range of genetic, developmental or chromosomal abnormalities in a foetus. It is conducted between 16 to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Amniocentesis is not a test taken by all mothers – it is only taken after direct consultation with a doctor or obstetrician.

The test is a simple procedure and consists of a small, hollow needle withdrawing some of the amniotic fluid that surrounds the foetus. A sample of this fluid is then sent away for testing.

Who is recommended for amniocentesis?

A woman might be recommended for amniocentesis if she is thought to be at a higher risk of delivering a child with a developmental or genetic abnormality. Such risk factors include a family history of genetic disorders, advanced age or an abnormal result from a serum screen.

What can amniocentesis detect?

Amniocentesis can return a range of results to the doctor. Some will be returned within a few days while others may take a couple of weeks. Amniocentesis can detect chromosomal abnormalities such as down syndrome, developmental defects such as spina bifida and genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis, not to mention the sex of the foetus.

Does amniocentesis pose any risks?

Very rarely, yes. Some complications of amniocentesis can include infection to either the mother or the foetus, and there is less than a one per cent chance of spontaneous abortion, which is why the test is only recommended to women in high risk groups. The test itself is very unlikely to cause anything more than mild bruising or discomfort in the area of the needle’s entry point. 

If you experience any side effects at all, such as vaginal leakage, high fever or bleeding, seek medical attention.

What happens next?

After your doctor gets the tests back you will be informed of the results. Your doctor will likely offer counsel and further advice based on the results, and they will explain the further options available to you, including any other networks or professionals you might benefit from approaching. Make sure you discuss all avenues so that you have a sound understanding of the choices before you.

*The above should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of trained medical professionals.