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Q&A: Amniotic Fluid Concerns

Q. How do I know if there's a problem with my amniotic fluid?

A. The amniotic fluid that your baby swims around in for 9 months plays a crucial role in her health. Your baby needs just the right amount of amniotic fluid to protect her and help her grow; too much fluid or too little can cause trouble. Ultrasounds are used to measure your amniotic fluid.

Having too little amniotic fluid is called oligohydramnios. About 8 percent of women have this condition. It can occur anytime during pregnancy, although it is more common during the late 3rd trimester. During the latter part of pregnancy, severe oligohydramnios may increase the risk of delivery complications, such as umbilical cord compression. Still, most women who develop oligohydramnios at the very end of their pregnancies deliver healthy babies.

If you have too little amniotic fluid, your doctor will monitor your baby's well-being with nonstress tests and biophysical profiles. If the fluid level drops too much, your doctor may recommend an early delivery.

Having too much amniotic fluid is called polyhydramnios. About 2 percent of women have this condition. Mild cases during the latter part of pregnancy usually don't cause much trouble. It is commonly seen with chubby babies. Severe cases of polyhydramnios are rare and are sometimes seen with babies who have blockage along the gastrointestinal tract. Women whose amniotic fluid increases rapidly are at risk for preterm rupture of the membranes, preterm delivery, umbilical cord prolapse, and separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus.

If you have too much amniotic fluid, your doctor will monitor your fluid level and watch you for signs of preterm labor. What he'll do about the fluid depends on the cause and at what week in your pregnancy the fluid becomes excessive.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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