Sufficient amount of amniotic fluid is essential for proper development of the organs and muscles of the baby. This article discusses the effects of scarcity of this fluid.
Amniotic fluid (commonly referred to as ‘waters’) is a clear, slightly yellowish liquid that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. It is present in the amniotic sac, and is necessary for the survival and proper growth of the fetus. A condition, wherein too little amniotic fluid is present in the womb of the pregnant woman is referred to as ‘oligohydramnios‘ while a condition, wherein the level of this fluid is high is referred to as ‘polyhydramnios‘.
Overview of the Fluid
The baby in the womb is surrounded by the amniotic fluid. It holds the baby safely and protects it from being hurt. The baby starts swallowing the fluid from the second trimester. It is thrown out of the baby’s body in the form of urine. Initially, the fluid contains water supplied by the mother, but after around 20 weeks, it contains fetal urine. The fluid provides all necessary nutrients to the baby, and is therefore essential for proper growth of the baby. The development of muscles, limbs, lungs, and digestive system of the baby depends upon the presence of this fluid only. Amniotic fluid test is performed to check whether the baby has any genetic disorders like Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome, and Turner syndrome.
The fluid is formed as soon as the amniotic sac is formed, at about 12 days after conception. The amount of fluid increases day-by-day and generally peaks at 36/37 weeks. At this point of time, a pregnant woman may have about 800-1000 ml of ‘waters’, which decreases gradually till the time of childbirth.
Amniotic fluid index (AFI) evaluation or deep-pocket measurements help assess the level of this liquid. The lungs of the baby develop and mature as the baby starts breathing and swallowing the fluid from the second trimester. Hence, low levels of amniotic fluid during the first half of pregnancy can lead to serious complications. Pregnant women with oligohydramnios are likely to experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. Even though the woman gives birth to the baby, there are increased chances of congenital defects as the scarcity of amniotic fluid leads to compression of fetal organs. Oligohydramnios experienced in the second half of pregnancy can lead to pre-term birth or intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). Similarly, complications during childbirth such as cord compression, meconium-stained fluid, and C-section delivery may arise due to deficiency of ‘waters’ in the second half of pregnancy.
Leakage of amniotic fluid at the end of the pregnancy is commonly referred to as ‘water breaking’. This is one of the normal signs of labor during pregnancy. Significant leaking of the amniotic fluid, early during pregnancy, is considered as a sign of preterm labor (delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
If weight gain during pregnancy is not according to the established standards, then doctors may check for oligohydramnios. In case of scarcity of the fluid, the outline of the baby is easily felt during physical examination. Less movement of the baby in the womb also indicates insufficient ‘waters’.
Women with lupus, diabetes, chronic high-blood pressure are more likely to have less than normal amount of amniotic fluid in the sac. Women who have already given birth to a baby with restricted growth, should regularly check the fluid levels during their next pregnancy.
Placental problems, premature rupture of membranes (PROM), pregnancy that goes over 42 weeks, maternal dehydration, hypertension, preeclampsia, diabetes, and chronic hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) are some of the main reasons of having insufficient level of ‘waters’. Treating such problems promptly helps prevent abnormal levels of the fluid. Re-hydration with oral fluids or IV fluids helps overcome the problem of low levels of the fluid. Fetal abnormalities (baby not able to produce enough urine due to kidney dysfunction or other problems), use of certain medications can bring down the levels of the fluid. ‘Carrying twins’ is also sometimes responsible for abnormal levels of the fluid. Amino infusion during labor through an intrauterine catheter and injection of fluid before delivery are some of the treatment options available.
Pregnant women should never take over-the-counter medications. They should consult a doctor for each and every problem. Healthy diet and increased intake of fluids is essential during pregnancy. Pregnant women should quit smoking. To avoid threatening side effects of oligohydramnios, they should also undergo regular checkups and follow the instructions of the doctor.
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.