If you’re pregnant, you know that amniotic fluid is what surrounds your baby in utero. But beyond that, its functions tend to be a mystery.
Pregnancy wouldn’t be possible without amniotic fluid, which serves as a marker of key development stages in your baby’s growth and has several important functions, including:
- It protects the baby. Amniotic fluid acts as a sort of blanket around your baby, cushioning it from impacts. Consider it a shock absorber. It also helps protect the umbilical cord — your baby’s lifeline. And it creates a sterile environment that protects the baby against infections. It also contains nutrients that helps the baby grow.
- It’s generated through osmosis. In the beginning of your pregnancy, amniotic fluid is formed from your body’s blood cells. Through the process of osmosis, the amniotic fluid passes through the fetal membranes to the baby. As it is made, the placenta is made, too.
- Mothers create a substance that waterproofs baby. During the second trimester of pregnancy (about 20 weeks), a smooth white film called vernix caseosa develops, covering the baby’s skin and protecting it like a lotion. In texture and appearance, it resembles white cheese. This protective barrier keeps the baby’s skin from breaking down in the amniotic fluid.
- It aids in your baby’s organ development. After the initial osmosis process, amniotic fluid is created through the recycling of fluids. When your baby pees, that creates more amniotic fluid. When your baby swallows amniotic fluid that helps develop the lungs, which are filled with fluid throughout the gestation period. Then as your baby filters that fluid through the kidneys, that helps develop the kidneys. Ideally, amniotic fluid is created in a steady way that allows for a balanced environment.
It serves as a marker of organ health. One of the ways to know the lungs and kidneys are working properly is that amniotic fluid is steadily being produced. Problems can develop if too little or too much fluid is generated. If too little amniotic fluid is present, this condition is called oligohydramnios. This can possibly indicate:
- Your water has broken prematurely
- The baby’s kidneys aren’t functioning correctly
- The placenta may not be functioning
All of these can indicate that your baby isn’t growing appropriately. Without the right amount of amniotic fluid to act as a cushion, limb deformities might result. A baby who doesn’t have enough amniotic fluid to move around easily can get stuck in positions that limit healthy development.
If your water has broken too early, you should see your doctor. This is likely a high-risk pregnancy and will require you to stay in the hospital for bed rest and observation until it is time to give birth.
If there is too much fluid, it’s called polyhydramnios. Although the surplus fluid could simply make for a more uncomfortable pregnancy, it could also indicate problems with your baby’s ability to swallow. This is another condition that your doctor would need to monitor.
How To Ensure Safe Levels of Amniotic Fluid
You should stay properly hydrated. Being hydrated helps you have enough fluids to allow for the creation of amniotic fluid. Dehydration can lead to several pregnancy complications, including early contractions.
How To Test Amniotic Fluid Levels
One of the ways to test for healthy amniotic fluid levels is to measure in centimeters a mother’s fundal height, which is the distance from the pubic bone to the top of the uterus. The fundal height starts being measured at 22 weeks. A healthy measurement is equal to the number of weeks of the pregnancy, plus or minus 3. For example, if you are 30 weeks pregnant and your fundal height was 36, an ultrasound might be needed to determine why that number is so high. For example, the baby might be big, and that could alter the birth plan.
If there are any concerns about the numbers, your doctor can also order antenatal testing to evaluate your baby’s condition. Your doctor might also want to see you more frequently to ensure your pregnancy is as healthy and stress free as possible.
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