Is Amniocentesis Safe?

Have you heard about the amniocentesis test during pregnancy? If so, then you may be concerned that this and other types of prenatal testing could be harmful to the unborn fetus or the mother. Women are often concerned about participating in any activity during pregnancy that involves even the slightest chance of miscarriage, and amniocentesis may be one of them. But it’s important to understand the test, the risks involved, and whether or not it’s right for you before you agree to it.

Invasive vs. Noninvasive Prenatal Testing

Amniocentesis is considered an invasive form of prenatal testing. Invasive prenatal testing can include any testing that requires a physician to enter the body in order to retrieve a sample or provide a diagnosis. Forms of invasive prenatal testing, like amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, are able to definitively diagnose a genetic condition in the fetus. Invasive prenatal testing can involve some risk to the unborn child.

This differs from non-invasive prenatal tests, like the MaterniT® 21 PLUS test, that only requires a blood draw to determine the likelihood of a baby being born with a particular genetic condition. There is no risk to the fetus during non-invasive prenatal testing. 

What is Amniocentesis?

Amniocentesis is usually only recommended for women who are of advanced maternal age (35 or older), women who received a positive result from a non-invasive prenatal test, those who have previously had a child with a genetic disorder, those who received abnormal ultrasound results, and those who are determined to be at risk because they have a genetic condition in their medical history. This procedure is usually recommended between 15 and 18 weeks of gestation and lasts around 45 minutes. 

During the test, the doctor extracts a small sample of amniotic fluid from the uterus with a needle through the abdomen. The sample is then sent to a lab for analysis to determine if the fetus has a genetic condition, is developing normally, whether or not an infection is present, what gender they are, and even who the father is. Some of the genetic conditions that can be confirmed by amniocentesis include (but are not limited to) Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs, and certain neural tube defects.

Risks of Amniocentesis

This kind of testing can come with some risks to the expectant mother and her unborn child. These can include infection, injury, and even miscarriage. However, it is important to note that the risk of miscarriage from amniocentesis is quite low– usually between 0.1-0.3% when performed in the second trimester. The risk factor can vary according to when the procedure is performed. 

Deciding What Kind of Prenatal Testing Is Right For You

If you have more questions about amniocentesis tests, their safety, or how to choose a prenatal test, speak with your doctor. They will be able to help you navigate all of the options, answer any questions, provide additional information, or refer you to a genetic counselor for more specific concerns. A genetic counselor is trained to guide families who are considered to be at risk of having a child with a genetic condition. 


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