What is Amniotic Fluid?

The amniotic fluid is a part of a baby’s life support system that protects the baby and assists in the development of the muscles, lungs, limbs and digestive system. This fluid is produced soon after the amniotic sac forms, i.e., about 12 days’ post-conception. It is first made up of water which is provided by the mother, and by about 20 weeks the foetal urine becomes the primary substance. As the baby grows, she or he will move in the womb with the help of this fluid, and in the second trimester, the baby will begin breathing and swallowing the amniotic fluid.  Sometimes, this fluid may measure too high or too low. If the measurement of the fluid is too low, it is called oligohydramnios; while, if it is too high, it is called polyhydramnios.

What is Low Amniotic Fluid?

Oligohydramnios, commonly known as low amniotic fluid is a condition in which, a pregnant woman has too little amniotic fluid. While you are pregnant, doctors can measure the amount of amniotic fluid present through various methods such as deep pocket measurements or the amniotic fluid index (AFI) evaluation. If the AFI shows the fluid as less than 5 centimetres, the absence of the fluid pocket 2-3 cm in depth, or the fluid volume of less than 500 ml at about 32-36 weeks’ gestation, then oligohydramnios is suspected.

The condition of low amniotic fluid can occur at any time during pregnancy. However, it is most common during the last trimester. If a woman has passed her due date by two weeks or more, she may be at a high risk for this condition as the fluids can decrease by half, after she reaches 42 weeks’ gestation.

What Causes Low Amniotic Fluid?

A few low amniotic fluid causes include:

  • Congenital Disabilities: This includes problems with the development of the kidneys or the urinary tract that could cause lesser production of urine, leading to lower levels of amniotic fluid.
  • Leaking or a Rupture of the Membranes: This refers to a gush of fluid or a slow trickle of fluid that occurs because of a tear in the membrane. A premature rupture of the membrane can also result in lower levels of amniotic fluid.
  • Problems with the Placenta: If a woman’s placenta is not able to provide enough blood and nutrients for the baby, the baby may stop recycling the fluid.
  • Post-Date pregnancyThis refers to a pregnancy that goes beyond 42 weeks. In such cases, a woman can have low amniotic fluid levels that could be a result of the decline in the placental function.
  • Maternal Complications: Factors such as hypertension, preeclampsia, maternal dehydration, diabetes, and chronic hypoxia can affect the levels of the amniotic fluid.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Low Amniotic Fluid?

Several signs and symptoms may lead to suspicion of low levels of amniotic fluid. They include:

  • Leaking fluid
  • Lack of feeling the movement of your baby
  • Small measurements
  • An amniotic fluid index of 5cm or less.

How to Treat Low Amniotic Fluid?

Sometimes, low amniotic fluid can be treated by replacing fluid through maternal oral or an IV hydration; while, in some cases, amnioinfusion is used. If low levels of amniotic fluid are seen in a post-term pregnancy, most doctors will recommend inducing labour.

How Can I Increase My Amniotic Fluid Levels?

It can feel like there’s so much to think about during pregnancy — eat a balanced diet, take your prenatal vitamin, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, keep anxiety in check, sleep on your left side, pat your head and rub your belly at the same time. (OK, so we’re not serious about that last one.)

Amniotic fluid is something else you want on your radar, but let’s get serious for a moment. If your levels are putting you or your baby at risk, your doctor will tell you — and advise you on what to do next. It’s important to do what they say.

Amniotic fluid is a very important part of fetal development. It’s the fluid that surrounds your baby while they grow inside your uterus. It’s a workhorse that:

  • cushions your baby (kind of like a shock absorber)
  • allows baby to move
  • helps baby’s body parts develop normally
  • keeps baby’s temperature regulated
  • helps prevent infection

Amniotic fluid also helps keep the umbilical cord floating freely, so that it doesn’t get squished between the baby and the side of your uterus.

Let’s first take a look at how amniotic fluid works and why it may be low. Then we’ll consider what you can do on your own — and what your doctor can do — to help.