What Intended Parents Should Know About Amniocentesis


One thing we will ask you to consider in the early stages of your journey is your opinion on an amniocentesis procedure. This is just one of many new vocabulary words you’re likely learning, and you may feel unsure about what it is, or how you should feel about it. Let’s take a closer look at what this procedure is, why your surrogate 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, neuro-tube defects, and chromosomal abnormalities. Most commonly the test screens for Down syndrome, spina bifida, or Trisomy 18 or 21. The test can also identify paternity before birth as well as conditions like sickle-cell disease, Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, and nearly 100 other conditions.

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

The amniocentesis test takes roughly 45 minutes to complete and is often done in a doctor’s office. Using an ultrasound, doctors guide 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, doctors extract a small amount of fluid. This fluid will contain cells shed by the fetus. Doctors 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 gestational carrier much pain or discomfort. She may feel a piercing pain when the needle breaks the skin, or again when it penetrates the uterus. Following the procedure, she may experience irritation at the puncture site. Later, there may be 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 in order 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. In other cases, intended parents may know that the outcome would not cause them to terminate, but complete the test to have time to prepare for a special needs child.

Due to the weight of these decisions, we ask our surrogates to thoughtfully consider what it would mean to have an amniocentesis well before entering into pregnancy. We also ask you to think about how you feel about a potential termination following the results of an amniocentesis. These are issues that you’ll discuss in the matching and legal phases of your journey.

We understand that these are not small things to consider and that you may have questions. If you need to talk with Dr. Kim Bergman or another member of the Fertility Counseling Services (FCS) team about this, just let your Admissions or Case Specialist know.

Dr. Kim Bergman

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 Fertility Counseling Services and 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 upcoming book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. Her two daughters are in college.