What Surrogates Should Know About Amniocentesis


Although it is not likely to be a part of your journey, you will be asked in your matching phase how you feel about a procedure called amniocentesis. Many surrogates have never had this procedure previously, and they are unsure about what it is or how they should feel about potentially needing one. Let’s take a closer look at what this procedure is, why you may need one, what it looks for, and what you can expect.

An amniocentesis, or ‘amnio’ for short, is an invasive diagnostic test that allows doctors to screen for potential genetic disorders, neural tube defects, and chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, spina bifida, or Trisomy 18. The test can also identify paternity before birth as well as conditions like a sickle-cell or Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, and nearly 100 other conditions.

An amniocentesis is typically ordered after a poor result from non-invasive testing. Non-invasive tests are generally either a nuchal translucency (NT) scan or a triple scan, and they are generally conducted between 11-13 weeks gestation. If doctors recommend it, an amniocentesis is then typically completed between the 11-20 week of pregnancy.

The amniocentesis test takes roughly 45 minutes to complete and is often done in a doctor’s office. Using an ultrasound, a doctor guides a long needle into a woman’s abdomen, passing through her uterine wall, and into the gestational sac. Ultrasound monitoring keeps the needle from touching the developing baby. Once the needle is in place, the doctor will extract a small amount of fluid. This fluid contains cells shed by the fetus. Doctors will examine those cells in a laboratory to check for any potential disorders. Results are typically received within a matter of days to a few weeks.

Typically, an amniocentesis does not cause the carrier much pain or discomfort. You may feel a piercing pain when the needle breaks your skin, or again when it penetrates the uterus. Following the procedure, you may experience irritation at the puncture site. Later, you may experience a leaking of fluid or mild cramping. The most extreme potential side effect is a miscarriage. Researchers estimate this happens in 1 out of every 400 instances of amniocentesis.

Despite the risk of miscarriage, some intended parents elect to have this procedure completed to gain a better understanding of the health of their developing baby. Some intended parents may elect to terminate a pregnancy if the child has a severe chromosomal abnormalities or other conditions that would make a live birth or full term pregnancy unlikely, or would impact the quality of life of a surviving baby.

Due to the weight of these decisions, we ask our surrogates to consider what it would mean to have an amniocentesis well before entering into pregnancy. We also ask you to think about how you would feel if the intended parents elected for a termination following the results of an amniocentesis.

We understand that these are not small things to consider and that you may have questions. If you need to talk, your case specialist and mental health specialist are here for you.

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for intended parents, surrogates and donors. She is the co-owner of Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019) as well as the children's book You Began as a Wish (Independent Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. She has two adult daughters.