Amniocentesis involves taking a small sample of amniotic fluid so the cells it contains can be tested. Amniotic fluid surrounds the fetus (unborn baby) in the womb (uterus).
Preparing for amniocentesis
You won't usually need to do anything special to prepare for amniocentesis. You can eat and drink as normal beforehand.
In some cases, you may be advised to avoid going to the toilet for a few hours before the test, because it's sometimes easier to perform when your bladder is full. Your doctor or midwife will tell you about this before you attend your appointment.
You may want to bring a partner, friend or family member for support when you have the test.
You'll have an ultrasound scan before and during amniocentesis. An ultrasound scan uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of your womb that's relayed to a monitor.
The ultrasound scan allows healthcare professionals to:
- check the position of the fetus
- find the best place to remove some amniotic fluid
- ensure the needle can pass safely through the walls of your abdomen (belly) and womb
Before the needle is inserted into your abdomen, the area may be numbed with anaesthetic. This involves having a small injection into your belly that may sting slightly.
However, anaesthetic isn't usually necessary because research suggests that it doesn't have much effect in most cases.
How amniocentesis is performed
An antiseptic solution will first be used to clean your abdomen to minimise the risk of infection. A long, thin needle is then inserted through your abdominal wall. It may cause a sharp, stinging sensation.
Using the ultrasound image as a guide, the needle is passed into the amniotic sac that surrounds the fetus. A syringe is then used to remove a small sample of the amniotic fluid, which will be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
In about 8 out of every 100 women who have amniocentesis, not enough fluid is removed the first time the needle is inserted. If this happens, the needle will be inserted again.
Is amniocentesis painful?
Amniocentesis isn't usually painful, but you may feel uncomfortable during the procedure.
Some women describe experiencing a pain similar to period pain or feeling pressure when the needle is taken out.
How long does it take?
The procedure usually takes around 10 minutes to perform.
Afterwards, you will be monitored for up to an hour, in case the test causes any side effects, such as heavy bleeding. You can then go home to rest.
It's a good idea to arrange for someone to drive you home, as you might not feel up to it yourself.
Recovering after amniocentesis
After amniocentesis, it's normal to have cramps similar to period pain and light vaginal bleeding called "spotting" for a day or two.
You can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol (but not ibuprofen or aspirin) if you experience any discomfort.
You may wish to avoid any strenuous activity for the rest of the day.
Contact your midwife or the hospital where the procedure was carried out for advice as soon as possible if you develop any of the following symptoms after the procedure:
- persistent or severe pain
- a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or more
- chills or shivering
- discharge or clear fluid coming from the vagina
- contractions (when your abdomen tightens then relaxes)
Getting your results
The first results should be available within a few days, and this will tell you whether a health condition or chromosome condition has been discovered.
If rarer conditions are also being tested for, it can take two to three weeks or more for the results to come back.
If your test shows that your baby has a health condition or chromosomal condition, the implications will be fully discussed with you.
You may choose to continue with your pregnancy, while gathering information about the condition so you're fully prepared, or you may consider ending your pregnancy (abortion).
Read more about the results of amniocentesis.