This is a procedure often done after the 20th week of gestation (although it should be done between the 16th and 18th week) in which a needle is inserted through the pregnant woman's abdomen, through her uterus, through the amniotic sac, and a sample of the amniotic fluid is taken. It is used to screen for genetic abnormalities such as Down's Syndrome and Spina Bifida. Results take 10 days to 3 weeks, and many women find those weeks extremely stressful.
Amniocentesis has a risk of miscarriage of 1 out of every 200 procedures.* This is because when the needle is inserted, it can cause some bleeding, infection, and as a result cause the uterus to contract. For women who are Rh- this can possibly cause blood mixing which could result in fetal hemolytic disease in rh+ fetuses.
Babies whose mothers have had amniocentesis have more respiratory problems as well as other anomalies. In an article published in The Lancet, Volume 351, Number 9113, May 9, 1998, early amniocentesis was found to be associated with fetal loss and clubfoot.
Some women would rather know what is ahead, and are willing to risk miscarriage to find out. Other women are not willing to risk miscarriage no matter what information they might find out. Amniocentesis is often recommended routinely after a woman reaches 35 years of age. However, many women refuse the test because, no matter what might be wrong with their baby, they will still love the baby just as much, and they are not willing to increase their risk to find out about possible conditions which might not even exist.
In order to find a safe place to insert the needle, an ultrasound will also be done. So you are exposed to two potentially unsafe procedures at one time.
Before you have this procedure done, be very sure you are willing to pay the price and that the information you will receive is of life and death proportions. Only 4% of all fetuses have a risk of ANY kind of abnormality.*
*Statistic taken from "Understanding Lab Work in the Childbearing Year" 4th Edition, by Anne Frye, 1990.
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