Are you having an amniocentesis? If so, you're probably wondering how it's done, what it's like, and how long until you will know the results.
Abbi Perets, Betsy Bailey and Nancy J. Price

What it's like
Amniocentesis, also known as an "amnio," is a prenatal test commonly used to check for chromosomal defects, although certain other tests can also be performed on the sample. When testing for fetal abnormalities, this procedure is usually done between 16 and 18 weeks of pregnancy (which is between 14 and 16 weeks after conception).

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So how is an amniocentesis done? Guided by ultrasound, a doctor inserts a large hollow needle through mom's abdominal skin, through the uterine wall, then punctures the amniotic sac and withdraws a small amount (about 15 cc) of amniotic fluid. The test is generally done in about a minute. The fetal cells contained within the amniotic fluid (except for alpha fetoprotein, which is quantitated from the fluid itself) are then sent to a lab for culturing and/or testing.

The amnio was not bad at all. I was scared to death before we went to the doctor and during the procedure. I honestly think having blood drawn hurts worse. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't pleasant, but it is bearable. This is coming from someone who gets hives from going to get yearly paps from her gyno. - Kacy

It was easy, fast, and I had the injection to numb the stomach area and it did not hurt. The anesthetic they inject is much like a pinch at the dentist's office in your cheek when you are getting dental work done. I would highly advise the numbing injection. I felt nothing, no discomfort. - Sheri

Amniocentesis can discover:

  • Neural tube defects (spina bifida, anencephaly, meningocele, encephalocele)
  • Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21)
  • Fetal infections
  • Intra-amniotic infection
  • Skeletal and blood diseases
  • Baby's blood type, including Rh genotype

    Later in pregnancy, amniocentesis can check the baby's lung maturity -- particularly important if mom has gone into premature labor or the baby needs to be delivered early for some reason. In this case, lamellar bodies, phosphatidyl glycerol and the lecithin/sphingomyelin ratio may be checked to see if the baby would be able to breathe on his or her own or with the help of ventilators.

    Amnio results: Waiting... and waiting
    Results of an amniocentesis are not instant, and, depending on what the doctor is looking for, can take a week or more. Depending on the other risk factors you're facing, this can be a very difficult time for you!

    My AFP test came back positive? I was rushed to genetic counseling where my options were laid out. I had both a level two ultrasound and an amnio. Waiting for the results was the longest two weeks in my pregnancy. - Shawn

    I'll be 35 in 7 days and was advised to take the triple screen test, and because of an abnormal result was advised to have the amnio... Now I have to wait at least 10 days for results to come back and am freaking out. - Laurie

    Although it may seem impossible, try to think of other things while you play the waiting game. When you set up your amnio, take the time to schedule some distractions, too. A visit with old girlfriends, a spa vacation, or a rental-movie marathon can all help keep your mind occupied. A volunteer activity -- helping those less fortunate -- can also help you focus on something outside yourself.

    Here's how long it generally takes to find out most amnio test results:

  • Amniotic fluid AFP (AF-AFP) results: 1-2 days
  • Fetal Rh genotype: 1-2 days
  • Assay for acetylcholine esterase (AchE): 4-5 days
  • Fetal karyotype: 7-10 days

    If you are having an amniocentesis already, you may ask to find out the baby's sex -- amnio is considered to be the most accurate way to determine the baby's gender before birth.

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