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Understanding amniocentesis
Q: I'm scheduled for an amniocentesis in two weeks to check my baby's chromosomes. I'm pretty nervous. Can you tell me what to expect?
A: I'm happy to provide a general overview of what to expect, but each office may have its own routine. Ask your doctor for any printed material that may be available to describe the procedure.

Amniocentesis is a procedure in which a sample of amniotic fluid is removed from your uterus for chromosomal testing. The procedure is usually done in an office, and is performed by an obstetrician, a maternal-fetal specialist or a radiologist. Often a genetics counselor will talk with you before the procedure and answer your questions.

Before the amniocentesis is performed, a detailed ultrasound will be conducted to examine your baby carefully and check for the largest pockets of amniotic fluid. The physician will choose a fluid collection that appears to be easy and safe to reach. Once a good pocket is identified, your skin will be marked and your belly will be washed and draped to keep the area sterile. Next your doctor will guide a long, thin needle through the skin into the pool of fluid that was seen on ultrasound. Some doctors used a small amount of anesthetic, but this is by no means standard. You may feel a twinge of discomfort with the placement of the needle, but most women are relieved to learn this is not as painful as anticipated.

The doctor will remove the equivalent of several tablespoons of amniotic fluid before removing the needle and placing a bandage on the site. The fluid appears clear to yellow. When I had my amniocentesis, I remember thinking that a lot of fluid had been removed, but in reality on a tiny percentage of total amniotic fluid is.

It's advisable to rest for at least a day after the procedure. Ask your healthcare provider for specific recommendations on when to resume work or exercise. The vast majority of procedures occur without complications. You may have some cramping, a small amount of vaginal bleeding or a small amount of amniotic fluid leaking from your vagina. If these symptoms do not subside within several hours, notify your doctor.

After the procedure is completed, you will need to wait up to two weeks to get your results. Ask your provider how soon to expect notification. Best of luck!

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist