Needles – they make even a lionhearted grown man shrill. In amniocentesis, pain is one of the main things moms brood over because of how long the needle is. I mean, come on. The fret is reasonable. As a mom who went through the procedure, I feel your anxiety. Trust me. But does amniocentesis hurt?
I’m not here to ease your worries and give you false hope. I’m here to tell you what you should expect during the procedure.
What is amniocentesis?
Amniocentesis is a medical term derived from the Greek words “amnion” (sac) and “kentesis” (puncture). It is one of the many diagnostic tests available that imparts indications of probable genetic disorder. The doctor may offer the procedure if there is a chance of a genetic condition – strong family history of genetic disorders, you or your husband have a genetic condition, you have a child with the said condition, other prenatal tests suggests a possibility.
Amniocentesis is also an assessment of fetal maturity. The other diagnostic tests are Karyotyping, Maternal Serum Screening, Chorionic Villi Sampling, and Percutaneous Umbilical Blood Sampling.
How is amniocentesis done? What will happen to me and the baby, and please be honest, will it be painful?
Alright, first, you need to take a deep breath. Good? Okay, now, read on.
Amniocentesis is the withdrawal of amniotic fluid through the abdomen. Amniotic fluid surrounds your baby, and serves as a protective mechanism for him/her inside the uterus. The fluid is constantly renewed via the amniotic membrane, and yes, the baby swallows it.
It is done during the 14th to 16th week of pregnancy, and can be done in an ambulatory clinic or your doctor’s office. During the said time, the amniotic fluid is sufficient enough (200 ml), and there are enough skin cells that can be withdrawn for karyotyping as well as Alpha-fetoprotein (a glycoprotein produced by the fetus’ liver) and acetylcholinesterase. The latter is a breakdown product of blood that reduces a false-positive test result. An increase level of AFP (Alpha-fetoprotein) may suggest disorders such as omphalocele and myelomeningocele. The level of AFP is decreased in chromosomal disorders such as Down Syndrome.
The mother will first be asked to void or urinate to reduce the size of the bladder. An empty and decreased bladder will prevent unintentional puncture.
The mother will then be asked to lie down on the examining table before being draped appropriately, ensuring that only the belly is exposed.
A folded towel will be placed under the mother’s right buttock in order to tip the body a little to the left, thereby preventing vena cava compression and supine hypotension syndrome.
Uterine contraction and fetal heart rate monitors will then be attached.
Your doctor will use a sonogram to check the position of your baby, look for the placenta, and the pocket of fluid necessary for amniocentesis.
The mother’s belly will be washed and an antiseptic will be applied next before a local anesthetic is given.
A thin, long needle (3-4 inches) will then be inserted to the abdomen. There will be a sensation of pressure, but based on a personal experience, I didn’t feel any pain. Pain threshold varies, and some report moderate pain. Tell your doctor if the pain is too much for you.
About 15ml of amniotic fluid will be withdrawn. The needle will then be removed, and the mother will be asked to remain still and rest for 30 minutes.
Important note: You know when you’re about to get an injection and someone would say “take a deep breath” to ease away the pain? You can’t do that during amniocentesis. Why? Holding your breath will lower your diaphragm against your uterus, and it will shift the contents inside the uterus.
Are there any risk and complications?
Like all procedures, amniocentesis is not 100% risk-free. The risk for the mother and the baby is quite low, though; less than 0.5%. Some complications associated with the procedure are infection of the amniotic fluid, hemorrhage from placental puncture, premature contraction, and puncture of the fetus.
Do voice out any concerns you may have to your doctor, and arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. After all, that’s what being a SmartMom truly means.