Amniotic fluid has many important functions and is vital for healthy fetal development. However, if the amount of amniotic fluid inside the uterus is too little or too great, complications can occur.
Here are some key points about amniotic fluid. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- At first, amniotic fluid consists of water from the mother’s body, but gradually, the larger proportion is made up of the baby’s urine.
- It also contains important nutrients, hormones, and antibodies and it helps protect the baby from bumps and injury.
- If the levels of amniotic fluid levels are too low or too high, this can pose a problem.
While a baby is in the womb, it is situated within the amniotic sac, a bag formed of two membranes, the amnion, and the chorion. The fetus grows and develops inside this sac, surrounded by amniotic fluid.
Initially, the fluid is comprised of water produced by the mother. By around 20 week’s gestation, however, this is entirely replaced by fetal urine, as the fetus swallows and excretes the fluid.
Amniotic fluid also contains vital components, such as nutrients, hormones, and infection-fighting antibodies.
When amniotic fluid is green or brown, this indicates that the baby has passed meconium before birth. Meconium is the name of the first bowel movement.
Meconium in the fluid can be problematic. It can cause a breathing problem called meconium aspiration syndrome that occurs when the meconium enters the lungs. In some cases, babies will require treatment after they are born.
Amniotic fluid is responsible for:
- Protecting the fetus: The fluid cushions the baby from outside pressures, acting as a shock absorber.
- Temperature control: The fluid insulates the baby, keeping it warm and maintaining a regular temperature.
- Infection control: The amniotic fluid contains antibodies.
- Lung and digestive system development: By breathing and swallowing the amniotic fluid, the baby practices using the muscles of these systems as they grow.
- Muscle and bone development: As the baby floats inside the amniotic sac, it has the freedom to move about, giving muscles and bones the opportunity to develop properly.
- Lubrication Amniotic fluid prevents parts of the body such as the fingers and toes from growing together; webbing can occur if amniotic fluid levels are low.
- Umbilical cord support: Fluid in the uterus prevents the umbilical cord from being compressed. This cord transports food and oxygen from the placenta to the growing fetus.
Normally, the level of amniotic fluid is at its highest around 36 of pregnancy, measuring around 1 quart. This level decreases as birth nears.
When the waters break, the amniotic sac tears. The amniotic fluid contained within the sac then begins to leak out via the cervix and vagina.
The waters usually break toward the end of the first stage of labor. According to Today’s Parent, only about 15 percent of waters break upon the onset of labor. When this happens, it is time to contact the health provider as delivery may be imminent.