Everything You Need to Know About Amniotic Fluid

Often referred to as the "water" which surrounds an unborn baby, amniotic fluid plays a vital role in fetal development.

If you're familiar with pregnancy, you might have heard something about amniotic fluid. You know it's important, your doctor measures it, and your unborn baby needs it, but what exactly is it? How does amniotic fluid work, and how much should you have during your pregnancy? Read on for these answers and everything you need to know about amniotic fluid.

Pregnant woman holding her belly

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What Is Amniotic Fluid and What Is Its Purpose?

Amniotic fluid, or the fluid which surrounds your fetus during pregnancy, is an essential part of your unborn baby's uterine home. The water-like substance supports the fetus, cushioning and protecting it. It helps regulate your unborn baby's vitals, mainly their temprature, and the amniotic sac provides them with essential antibodies and nourishment. According to one study, amniotic fluid provides 10% to 14% of the nutritional requirements of a normal fetus.

But amniotic fluid does others things, too. Amniotic fluid helps with lung development, muscle development, and aids in digestion. It keeps the umbilical cord from being squeezed which, in turn, keeps your unborn baby well cared for and fed, and amniotic fluid gives your growing child room to move—which allows for proper bone growth.

What Color Is Amniotic Fluid?

Amniotic fluid is typically a clear liquid but may have a few different color tints to it, depending on what's going on with your baby. Sometimes, it's tinted red if it's mixed with blood. Other times it's yellowish in hue, and occasionally, it can be tinted green or brown. This occurs if and when your unborn baby has passed meconium in the womb, aka they had a bowel movement.

How Much Amniotic Fluid Should You Have During Pregnancy?

If there's any cause for concern throughout your pregnancy, your provider might check your amniotic fluid levels. They do this by taking a measurement, which should fall between 5 cm and 25 cm. Having too much amniotic fluid is a condition called polyhydramnios, and too little oligohydramnios.

While the exact cause of these conditions isn't always known, there are a few factors that can contribute:

  • Preexisting conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Certain medications
  • Pregnancy continuing two weeks past your due date
  • Fetal health concerns, including swallowing issues, heart failure, and/or infection

Both conditions can be cause for concern, but fear not: Your provider will check your amniotic fluid levels to ensure everything is staying on course and both you and your unborn baby are safe.

Is Too Little Amniotic Fluid Cause for Concern?

Having too little amniotic fluid can be a cause for concern. Not only is amniotic fluid a cushion for your little one and an important part of getting nutrients to them, but too little fluid can have a negative impact on the umbilical cord. If the fluid levels are too low, the umbilical cord may be squeezed, cutting off the most vital way your baby received oxygen and nutrients.

The good news is, if this is a concern for you, there are different ways to increase your levels of amniotic fluid. Some include medical interventions that would be performed by your doctor. They might also suggest things you can do at home, such as drinking more water and/or getting more rest, though these aren't necessarily treatments for oligohydramnios.

What Happens If You Leak Amniotic Fluid?

No matter where you are in your pregnancy, it seems like, at one point or another, different parts of your body are leaking. But what happens if you leak amniotic fluid—and how do you know if what you're leaking is amniotic fluid or if your bladder just isn't as strong as it used to be? As we mentioned, this fluid will be mostly clear but it is also usually orderless. Sometimes, it may have a slightly sweet scent.

Still not sure? Go to the bathroom and empty your bladder completely. Afterward, put on a pad and leave it on for a while (around 30 minutes to an hour). If there is anything on the pad after, take a look. Urine is likely to be more yellow, compared to amniotic fluid, which will be clear.

If you're concerned about leaking amniotic fluid, get in touch with your provider. They will determine your next steps to keep you and your baby safe and healthy.

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