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A Guide to Amniotic Fluid: The What, Why, and How

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Amniotic Fluid

Everyone has seen the gush of amniotic fluid at a pregnant woman’s feet as her water breaks in movies and on TV. Irrespective of the fact that it doesn’t quite work that way. Yes, amniotic fluid does play an important role in the labor and delivery of a pregnancy. 

What is Amniotic Fluid?

It is the fluid surrounding the baby in the uterus or could be understood as the warm, padded home where the baby grows and develops over the trimester. This helps the baby in maintaining a steady temperature and also offers protection and cushioning for the lungs and digestive systems of the baby. It also prevents umbilical cord compression giving the baby the ability to move around and develop its bones and muscles.

The fluid also contains nutrients, hormones, and antibodies. The amniotic sac, on the other hand, holds the baby in form for about 12 days after conception. In the initial weeks, it is mostly filled with water and later with the baby’s urine.

What Does Amniotic Fluid Look and Smell Like?

1. Appearance

It is clear or tinted yellow. If it isn’t, it is probably because the baby has had their first bowel movement known as meconium in the womb. In this case, the fluid is said to be green or brown. Here, the doctor will need to take a call, whether or not the baby will need a treatment post-birth. This is done to prevent breathing problems.

2. Smell

You might be surprised, but the amniotic fluid is generally odorless.

What are The ‘Normal’ Amniotic Fluid Levels?

In your trimester you’ll notice that the doctor does checks to know if the amniotic fluid level is in the normal range. They do so as too much of the fluid or even too little for that matter could lead to a problem for both the mother and the baby.

The normal level for an amniotic fluid by the 36th week is one quart and post it, the level of the fluid drops till the water breaks. To measure the amount of fluid, doctors use ultrasound by using the amniotic fluid index (AFI) which checks the depth in all four areas, and the maximum vertical pocket (MPV) which measures the deepest area of the fluid.

What Happens If The Amniotic Fluid Levels are Low?

Having too little of the amniotic fluid is known as Oligohydramnios. The signs of the condition include:

  • Low maternal weight gain
  • Fetal growth restriction 
  • Leaking of the fluid from the vagina

In total, about 8% of women face low levels of amniotic fluid, and 4% are diagnosed with oligohydramnios. This can be caused due to placental problems, birth defects, a leak or rupture of the membranes, preeclampsia, dehydration, diabetes, and late delivery up to 42+ weeks of the pregnancy.

Oligohydramnios does pose certain risks to the baby and the treatment depends on how long you are, in some cases, there are ways to increase the levels of the amniotic fluid too.

What Happens If The Amniotic Fluid Levels are HIgh?

Polyhydramnios is another condition where the levels of the amniotic fluid are high. It doesn’t have many symptoms. In 50% of cases, pregnant women aren’t aware of the cause, unlike oligohydramnios. While the rest 50% of cases are caused by

  • Birth defects
  • Infection in the baby
  • Problems with the heartbeat
  • Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome
  • A mismatch between the blood of the mother and the baby, like Rh disease, and diabetes

However, only about 1% of pregnant women have polyhydramnios. In most cases, there is a gradual buildup of fluid but can increase the risk of serious complications like premature birth, placental abruption, or stillbirth. This is why you should never miss a prenatal checkup.

How Can You Increase The Level of Amniotic Fluid?

1. Amnioinfusion

This is when the saline solution is flushed into the uterus, done during labor by inserting a catheter through the cervix. This process decreases the pressure around the umbilical cord, lowering the chances of cesarean delivery.

2. Amniocentesis

The other way to increase the level of the fluid is by injecting via amniocentesis just before the delivery. However, the levels are shown to again drop within a week after the procedure, this helps the doctors visualize the fetus through ultrasound and make a diagnosis.

3. Drinking lots of water

Yes, as simple as it may sound, rehydrating by drinking lots of fluids has shown to increase the levels of amniotic fluid.

How Can You Decrease The Level of Amniotic Fluid?

The treatment depends on its severity and the underlying cause. In some cases, you might need just a needle to drain the amniotic fluid. On the other hand, it can also be decreased by medications that lower the amount of urine produced by the baby, but it carries a risk of heart damage for the baby. This is why it is always important for you to keep the doctor in the loop by discussing and receiving close monitoring through routine checkups.

What are The Signs of Amniotic Fluid Leakage?

1. Color

The fluid is generally clear irrespective of the urine to be yellower, and the discharge, cloudy white. A leak could be noticed by a continuous trickle or a small gush of clear fluid.

2. Odor

The fluid is odorless, unlike the urine. So, if you smell the discharge to be odorless, it could be the amniotic fluid.

3. Amount

Is it continuous? Filling in a pantyliner in just a few hours? If the answer is yes, it could be amniotic fluid.

Please note, if you think you are facing these symptoms or are unsure, reach out to the doctor right away. Avoid the use of tampons, or have sex as it may introduce bacteria into the vagina.

To Conclude :

Pregnant women need to be aware of the signs of the amniotic fluid. It may be an important part of the pregnancy being the lining of the uterus holding the baby in place, it could get ugly if not taken care of at the right time. Also, the to-be mother needs to visit the doctor for her daily check-ups, this helps prevent anything unseen.

FAQs: Guide To Amniotic Fluid

1. What is known to be a good level for the amniotic fluid ?

A good level for the amniotic fluid reads between 8-18 in the ultrasound machine. If it is reduced to less than 5-6, it is considered as oligohydramnios.

2. Will drinking water increase the level of amniotic fluid ?

According to a study, hydration is important and helpful for increasing the level of the fluid between 37 and 41 weeks of pregnancy.

3. Does stress cause a low level of amniotic fluid ?

Yes! Prolonged stress increases levels of certain stress-related hormones in the amniotic fluid.


Reviewed By:

Esha Chainani - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Esha Chainani - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Dr. Esha Chainani is an Obstetrician, Gynaecologist, and laparoscopic surgeon who aims to break the stigma around women’s health by advocating an inclusive and open practice of obstetrics and gynecology and an author of several internationally published research papers and health articles in the media like the Swaddle.
She also founded Premaa, a non-profit to reduce maternal morbidity and eventual maternal mortality by providing lower-income pregnant women living in urban areas with cell phone access through an app that can feature an entire section about contraception as well for a whole gamut of reproductive health.
A panel for multiple health sessions including with the UN, USAID, BMC, gender at work, and multiple non-profit organisations, and is on the advisory panel of the South Indian medical students association.

On behalf of the editorial team at Parenthoodbliss, we follow strict reporting guidelines and only use credible sources, along with peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and highly respected health organizations. To learn about how we maintain content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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