When you’re expecting, your developing baby floats blissfully in a fluid-filled sac inside your uterus. This amniotic fluid can tell you much about the health of your growing child. It also serves to protect the fetus from injury while in the womb.
How does amniotic fluid develop? What does the amniotic fluid do, specifically? What can problems with it tell us about the health of the baby?
What Is Amniotic Fluid Made Of?
The amniotic fluid begins developing in the amniotic sac when a woman conceives. At first, this fluid consists primarily of plasma from the mother. Later, as the baby’s kidneys begin to develop at the age of 13 weeks, fetal urine adds to the amniotic fluid.
At first, the amniotic fluid consists of mainly water and electrolytes, similar to the composition of plasma. As your pregnancy advances, it takes on protein, carbohydrates, lipids and urea, all of which contribute to the development of the fetus. As the infant gets closer to delivery, the skin and gut absorb much of this fluid.
In appearance, the fluid looks clear to yellow. Sometimes, the baby passes meconium, or their first bowel movement, while in the womb. This can turn the amniotic fluid a brownish color, and such infants may need treatment immediately after or even before birth to prevent breathing problems.
Getting ready for pregnancy can help ensure your amniotic sac develops normally. Exercising moderately most days of the week can help prepare your body for healthy fluid development and help you conceive in the first place. Research indicates women with a BMI of 30 or more have trouble conceiving more than their normal-weight peers, and regular exercise can help you shed excess pounds.
You can also switch to a primarily plant-based diet before conception and during early pregnancy. Folate, for example, is a vital nutrient for developing fetuses and helps promote normal amniotic fluid development. Eating meals containing broccoli and asparagus can boost your folate levels naturally.
What Does the Amniotic Fluid Do?
What does the amniotic fluid do? The amniotic fluid performs a host of functions. Some of them include the following:
- Temperature moderation: You have sweat glands to help moderate your body temperature. Your baby eventually develops these, but cannot control this on its own yet. The amniotic fluid helps keep the fetus at a constant temperature even when you’re hot or cold.
- Lung and digestive system growth: Your developing baby breathes and drinks amniotic fluid. The nutrients help in the development of these organs.
- Muscle and bone development: Amniotic fluid allows your baby to move freely in utero. As in humans already born, physical exercise helps the developing fetus grow strong muscles and bones.
- Umbilical cord support: Amniotic fluid helps prevent the umbilical cord from becoming compressed or causing prolapse.
- Protection: Amniotic fluid protects the baby from bumps and bruises in utero. Doctors advise against high-impact cardiovascular exercise during the first few weeks while the fluid develops. Later in pregnancy, women can exercise however they like as long as they avoid contact sports such as boxing.
Doctors can find you have too much amniotic fluid, called polyhydramnios, or that you have too little, called oligohydramnios. Oligohydramnios often results from a leak in the amniotic sac. Polyhydramnios can indicate gestational diabetes. Both conditions increase the chances of stillbirth and breach birth. Women with either one need careful monitoring and may need cesarean sections to protect the health of their infant.
Tests Utilizing Amniotic Fluid
When you get an amniocentesis, your obstetrician begins with an ultrasound to ensure the needle insertion won’t hurt the infant. She then inserts a long needle into your abdomen to extract the fluid for laboratory testing.
Amniocentesis detects chromosomal abnormalities, genetic disorders and neural tube defects. Down syndrome is a common chromosomal abnormality. Genetic disorders include cystic fibrosis, and spina bifida ranks as a common neural tube defect. Most often, doctors perform amniocentesis between 14-20 weeks, but physicians can perform the procedure as early as 11 weeks.
Amniocentesis can also determine paternity. This test has a 99 percent accuracy rate.
What Happens When Your Water Breaks?
Normally, you’ll start to feel contractions before your amniotic fluid breaks as you’re getting ready for delivery. Indeed, in some cases, physicians need to break the amniotic sac during the delivery process. Relatively few women experience the signature gush of these waters signifying birth is imminent. Some women confuse the trickle of amniotic fluid with urine, but this fluid has no odor.
If your water breaks before 37 weeks, your doctor can sometimes extend the pregnancy. Most likely, though, you will deliver your baby prematurely. If you fear your water has broken, use a pad, not a tampon, to stem the flow and seek medical attention immediately.
The Wonders of Amniotic Fluid
Amniotic fluid does much to protect your developing fetus and help her to grow. It also offers valuable nutrients requisite for development and provides clues to the health of the baby. Now that you know the answer to the question, “what does the amniotic fluid do,”‘ you hopefully feel a better appreciation for your birth waters.