Amniotic Fluid Levels & Purpose

Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds the fetus in the amnion.  The fluid for most of the pregnancy is made up of water from the mother, by the end of the pregnancy it is made up of the baby’s urine.  This is because the baby will swallow the amniotic fluid and then pee it out while in utero. The amniotic fluid is very important for your baby’s health.  It keeps them safe while inside of you giving them a safe environment to develop in. There can be problems though with the levels of amniotic fluid. Normal levels when looked at on an ultrasound are 5 cm to 25 cm.  The problems occur when there isn’t enough fluid or too much fluid.

The amniotic fluid does a lot in your body.  It helps protect the baby from bumps or bruises.  It contains nutrients, hormones and antibodies for the baby.  Amniotic fluid also helps with temperature control. It makes sure the baby stays warm enough.  Amniotic fluid also helps with lung and digestive function. It does this by helping the baby practice using the muscles needed to breathe and swallow the fluid.  Another thing amniotic fluid does for your baby is help with muscle and bone development. This is because it gives your baby a safe space to float around in so they can use their muscles.  Amniotic fluid provides lubrication around your baby. This is particularly important in between fingers and toes to prevent webbing. Not only does it protect your baby, but amniotic fluid also helps make sure that the umbilical cord, that provides your baby with oxygen and nutrition, doesn’t become compressed.  

When your water breaks this is a sure sign that labor is imminent.  What is really happening when your water breaks is that the amniotic sac is breaking and the amniotic fluid then is released through your cervix and vagina.  This usually means true labor is starting. Not everyone has their water break though. Some people can go through true labor for hours with their water never breaking.  Once at the hospital though your doctor will be able to help assist in breaking your water if labor is truly happening.

Oligohydramnios is when there isn’t enough amniotic fluid.  Your fluid levels are too low. Measuring below 5 cm on an ultrasound.  This only occurs in about 4% of all pregnancies. So it isn’t very common.  There are a lot of different things that can cause this to happen. The main one being there is a tear in the amniotic sac.  Another reason could be high blood pressure. Some other preexisting conditions that can decrease the amniotic fluid amount are diabetes, lupus, or preeclampsia.  If you have had a previous pregnancy with growth restrictions, meaning your baby wasn’t growing at the rate it should have been then you could be at a higher risk of having low amniotic fluid amounts.  Having a pregnancy of multiples, whether that twins or triplets can lower the amount of amniotic fluid as well. If your baby shows signs of birth defects can also cause low levels. Delivering past your due date is another factor.  

Low levels of amniotic fluid can happen anytime during pregnancy.  If it happens within the first six months of pregnancy you may become at a higher risk for birth defects, loss of the pregnancy, preterm birth, neonatal loss of life.  If your low levels occur in the last trimester the risks are slow fetal growth, labor complications, or ending up having to have a C-section. At any time when there are low levels the umbilical cord can become compressed which can lead to complications with the baby.  

There may be some indicators for you to look out for in case you suspect you have low amniotic fluid levels.  One being if there is a tear in the amniotic sac you may leak amniotic fluid through the vagina. This is a clear, odorless fluid that will either gush out or come out like a trickle.  If it is amniotic fluid leaking it is not likely to stop. There can be some blood or mucus mixed in with the fluid. Other indicators may be that your uterus is measuring small for how far along you are in the pregnancy.  Another may be that you aren’t gaining enough weight. Or you may notice a decrease in fetal activity. While at the doctor if you have an ultrasound done they will be able to check your fluid levels during the ultrasound. Also when at the doctor when your doctor is listening to the baby’s heart rate if there is a sudden drop in the baby’s heart rate that could also indicate low amniotic fluid levels.  

There are ways to increase your fluid if you do find out that your levels are low.  The first one is to increase your water intake. I am sure you have heard this throughout the entire pregnancy, drink more, make sure you drink enough, but it doesn’t hurt to drink as much as you can.  If you can’t stand drinking just plain water, add a slice of lemon or cucumber to it to give it some natural flavoring. Another option your doctor may suggest is an amniofusion. This is when your doctor will inject saline into your uterus.  This is just a temporary fix but may get you to when it is safe to deliver your baby. Another option could be getting fluid from an amniocentesis while in labor. This is when you would get fluid given right into the amniotic sac through the amniocentesis needle.  This can help stop cord compression and stop the need for having a C-section done. If you are dehydrated your doctor may give you IV fluids to help, this can also increase your amniotic fluid amount. If you suffer from preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor may treat that and in return it will help your fluid levels go up.  Though bedrest isn’t as common anymore your doctor may put you on bedrest in worse case scenarios to try and get you to a safe time in your pregnancy to deliver your baby. Another thing is that your doctor may want to do extra monitoring on you and the baby. In some cases your doctor will want you to come in for additional appointments so they can check your fluid levels more often.  They may also want to do a fetal non stress test, or measure the baby’s movements in a certain amount of time. If your fluid doesn’t go up after any of these interventions your doctor will probably want to deliver your baby. The low amount of fluid can cause more complications to happen while delivering. So it will be up to you and your doctor to decide what the safest route of delivery is for you and your baby.  

Amniotic fluid is important in keeping your baby safe throughout your pregnancy.  Sometimes low levels occur but there are ways to intervene to make sure you and your baby are healthy.  Make sure to talk with your doctor if you suspect anything out of the ordinary, or if you have been having amniotic fluid leaking.  Not treating it can lead to infant deaths. Low fluid levels are not very common, but they do still occur. Knowing about the low levels will help be able to treat it before it is too late.  

There are ways to increase your fluid if you do find out that your levels are low.  The first one is to increase your water intake.


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