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Prenatal care

  • Prenatal care is the care you get while you’re pregnant.
  • Regular prenatal care helps keep you and baby healthy.
  • A doctor, midwife or other health provider gives this care.
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Amniocentesis (also called amnio) is a common prenatal test used to diagnose certain birth defects and genetic conditions. Genetic conditions are health conditions and birth defects that are passed down to a baby from mom and dad. They may cause health problems for a baby.

Amnio is different from another prenatal test called chorionic villus sampling (CVS). Talk to your health care provider about having an amnio, CVS or other prenatal tests.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all pregnant women should have the option of having prenatal tests like amniocentesis. Your provider may recommend you have an amnio if you are at risk for having a baby with a birth defect. Most women who have an amnio find out their baby is fine.

During an amnio, your health care provider takes a small sample of amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is fluid that surrounds your baby in the womb. The sample is used to check your baby’s health.

It’s best to have an amnio in the second trimester between 15 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. Amniocentesis before 15 weeks is no longer recommended because it has a higher risk of miscarriage and other complications. A third-trimester amniocentesis can find infections in your uterus (womb) or check to see if your baby’s lungs are developed enough for early birth.

What are some reasons for having an amnio?
Your provider should offer you an amnio, and you can ask to have one. You may want to have an amnio if you’re at risk for having a baby with a birth defect. These risks include:

  • Being 35 or older. The risk of having a baby with certain birth defects, such as Down syndrome, increases as you get older.
  • Having a previous child or pregnancy with a birth defect. If you had a child or a pregnancy with a birth defect in the past, your provider should offer you testing.
  • Abnormal screening test results. A screening test is usually a blood test that checks to see if you or your baby is more likely than others to have a certain health condition. It's different from a diagnostic test that tells you if you do or do not have a certain health condition. If you have abnormal results from a screening test, your provider should offer you amniocentesis. Most babies with abnormal screening test results are born healthy.
  • Family history of a genetic condition. If you, your partner, or a member of either of your families has a genetic condition, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, you may want to have an amnio.

How is the test done?
Amniocentesis takes a few minutes.

First, your health care provider asks you to lie flat on your back. He uses ultrasound to find your baby, the placenta and pockets of amniotic fluid. He then cleans your belly with an antibacterial liquid that destroys germs on your skin.

Next, using ultrasound as a guide, your provider puts a thin needle through your belly and uterus into the amniotic sac. He uses the needle to remove about 1 to 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) of fluid.

Once the fluid sample is taken, your health care provider uses the ultrasound to check that your baby’s heartbeat is healthy.

The amniotic fluid sample is sent to a lab, where it is examined and tested. In the lab, your baby’s cells are separated from the amniotic fluid. If your baby is being tested for genetic problems, the cells are grown for about 10 to 12 days at the lab so that there are enough to check for problems. Test results usually are available within 2 weeks.

The lab may test your baby’s amniotic fluid for proteins like alpha fetoprotein (AFP). Measuring the amount of AFP can check if your baby has neural tube defects (NTDs). The neural tube is the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spinal cord. AFP levels are often higher if your baby has an NTD. AFP test results usually are available in a few days.

Are there any risks to having an amnio?
Some women find that having an amnio is painless. Others feel cramping when the needle enters the uterus, or pressure when the fluid is removed. One to 2 out of 100 women (1 to 2 percent) have cramping, spotting or leaking amniotic fluid after the test. Your provider may tell you to avoid intense activity and take it easy for the rest of the day.

Serious complications from amniocentesis are rare. However, the test does involve a small risk of miscarriage. According to ACOG, less than 1 in 200 women (less than 1 percent) have a miscarriage after amniocentesis.

What happens after the test?
In most cases, amnio results show that a baby is healthy and without birth defects. If the test shows that your baby does have a birth defect, talk to your provider about your options. For example, your baby may be able to be treated with medicines or even surgery before birth. Or there may be treatments or surgery he can have after birth. Knowing about a birth defect before birth may help you get ready emotionally to care for your baby. You also can plan your baby’s birth with your health care provider to make sure she gets any special care she needs right after she’s born.

What if you’re not sure about having an amnio?
Choosing to have an amnio is a personal decision. Talking with genetic counselors, your health care provider, and religious and spiritual leaders can help you make decisions about testing for birth defects during pregnancy.

Ask your provider about other prenatal test options and how you can find a doctor who is trained and experienced in offering specific tests. Learn as much as you can about any prenatal tests your provider recommends to make the right decisions for you and your baby.

How can you reduce risk of birth defects?
Learn what you can do to get healthy before and during pregnancy to help reduce your risk for birth defects and improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Last reviewed October 2012

Have questions?

Frequently Asked Questions

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is the force of blood that pushes against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of the body. If the pressure in your arteries becomes too high, you have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.

At each prenantal care visit, your health care provider checks your blood pressure. To do this, she wraps an inflatable cuff around your upper arm. She pumps air into the cuff to measure the pressure in your arteries when the heart contracts (gets tight) and then relaxes.

Your blood pressure reading is given as two numbers: the top (first) number is the pressure when your heart contracts and the bottom (second) number is the pressure when your heart relaxes. A healthy blood pressure is 110/80. High blood pressure happens when the top number is 140 or greater, or when the bottom number is 90 or greater

Your blood pressure can go up or down during the day. Your provider can re-check a high reading to find out if you have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Last reviewed March 2012

See also: High blood pressure during pregnancy, Preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome

Can a rubella shot hurt my baby during pregnancy?

If you got your rubella shot around the time you got pregnant, it's unlikely that your baby will be harmed by the vaccine. However, it's best to wait to get pregnant for 28 days after vaccination because there is a very small risk of potentially hurting the baby. To date, there hasn't been any birth defects reported that are attributed to the rubella vaccine. In any case, the risk of harming your baby by getting the vaccine at the time you got pregnant is much lower than the risk of harming your baby if you caught rubella during pregnancy.

I couldn't see my baby at my 7 week ultrasound. Why?

At the 7th week of pregnancy, your baby is about ½ an inch long or the size of a blueberry. He's very small. When a transabdominal ultrasound (done on your belly) is done at such an early stage, it's possible that the baby can't be seen. It could be because it's too early in the pregnancy or because you conceived a little later than what you thought. Your health care provider might recommend a transvaginal ultrasound (done inside the vagina) to help see the baby more clearly.

What are choroid plexus cysts?

The choroid plexus is the area of the brain that produces the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This is not an area of the brain that involves learning or thinking. Occasionally, one or more cysts can form in the choroid plexus. These cysts are made of blood vessels and tissue. They do not cause intellectual disabilities or learning problems. Using ultrasound, a health care provider can see these cysts in about 1 in 120 pregnancies at 15 to 20 weeks gestation. Most disappear during pregnancy or within several months after birth and are no risk to the baby. They aren't a problem by themselves. But if screening tests show other signs of risk, they may indicate a possible genetic defect. In this case, testing with higher-level ultrasound and/or amniocentesis may be recommended to confirm or rule out serious problems.

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