Amniotic fluid is vital for a baby. This fluid fills uterine cavity during pregnancy and surrounds the embryo for the whole period of prenatal development. The “reservoir” filled with amniotic fluid is called the afterbirth (fetal bladder), or placenta.
Amniotic fluid: definition
With the course of pregnancy the fetus grows, thus everything surrounding it also expands in proportion, including the uterus, fetal bladder, etc. Of course, over time there is also more amniotic fluid. By the time of approximately 38-40 week of pregnancy it increases in volume to about 1.6 quarts.
Amniotic fluid is formed mostly due to the filtration of mother’s blood through the vascular walls of the placenta. Epithelial cells covering the fetal bladder and the embryo (lungs, kidneys, skin) take part in this process as well. This fluid completely refreshes itself 7-8 times a day. Its composition of the amniotic fluid in early stages of pregnancy is similar to the mother’s blood plasma, then the vital processes of the fetus are gradually changing its components.
Nearly 97% of the fluid is water where different nutrients dissolve: proteins, mineral salts (calcium, sodium, chlorine). Besides, there are skin cells, hair cells, and aromatic substances – alkaloids. According to a popular belief, amniotic fluid smells similar to human milk. That allows a newborn baby to infallibly detect where its mother’s breast is.
In some hospitals, nurses do not wash the newborns’ hands, so that the babies could suck on their fingers, still smelling like the amniotic fluid they have got used to so much.
The purpose of the amniotic fluid
This fluid plays a very important part during pregnancy.
Its purposes are:
- Cushioning effect – it defends the fetus from injuries, compressions, hypothermia, overheating, and any other outside damage;
- Defense from bacteria and viruses;
- Providing a safe “field of activity” to the fetus, allowing it to move and develop freely;
- Providing the fetus with nutrients and oxygen.
If the amount of the amniotic fluid during pregnancy is too different from what is considered normal then it is an anomaly. There exist such abnormalities as amniotic fluid decrease to less than 1.6 quarts – “oligohydramnios”, and its increase – “polyhydramnios”.
The cause of these abnormalities can be some other pathology, such as intrauterine infection, congenital pathology, or mother’s sickness. Excess or low amniotic fluid is usually poorly treatable.
Low amniotic fluid
Low amniotic fluid has such dangers as:
- Possible fetal hypoxia;
- Underdevelopment of the fetus (because it can not move and develop freely without the fluid);
- Blood supply disturbance between the uterus and placenta;
- Weak labor.
Excess amniotic fluid
In practice, excess amniotic fluid occurs more frequently. However, most physicians think that it happens because polyhydramnios is much easier to diagnose.
The dangers of polyhydramnios:
- Cord entanglement risk. By the end of pregnancy there is less and less space for the fetus in the uterus. So when the fetus stops its formation it does not have a possibility of free movement;
- Premature birth. It occurs because the excess of this fluid puts too much pressure on the cervix and smooths it out before the due date. The uterus is not able to keep the fetus and the increased amount of the amniotic fluid inside;
- Powerless labor.
The state of amniotic fluid
It is possible to diagnose the state of the amniotic fluid via pelvic ultrasound. A physician evaluates its amount as well as its transparency, presence of foreign substances. If you need amore detailed diagnostics the physician performs amniocentesis. This test consists several stages. Under the monitoring via ultrasound a medical worker punctures an abdominal wall and takes a sample of the amniotic fluid. The retrieved biological material undergoes a number of tests – biochemical, cytological, immunological, hormonal. This examination is risky, thus it requires sound medical indications.
Indications for amniocentesis:
- Identification of the congenital diseases of the fetus;
- Ascertaining the severity of fetal pathology.
Discharge of amniotic fluid
Premature discharge of amniotic fluid occurs most often when the pregnancy has complications such as inflammation of the vagina or cervix. Under the influence of microorganisms, fetal membranes become thinner. They lose their elasticity and can not function properly.
As a consequence, discharge of amniotic fluid happens. Its symptoms are very hard to recognize on their own. The fluid can leak in small drops for quite a long time unnoticed.
Ideally, its discharge occurs in the first period of childbirth. The fetal bladder is thinning and finally breaking during the labor. As a rule, at this time a half of amniotic fluid is discharged. The remaining waters release after the baby is born.
The fluid releases before the labor, which means that “premature discharge of amniotic fluid” has taken place. If you feel contractions, but the cervix is not ready for giving birth medics speak of “early discharge”. Such situations are most common for abnormal pregnancies.
Sometimes there are cases when the placenta does not break completely but has minor tearing or the breaking is considerably higher than the mouth of the uterus. It complicates the diagnostics of the discharge of amniotic fluid.
This discharge is difficult to notice. If a future mother has any complaints about it medics do an “amnio-test”. A health worker inserts a test strip with the reagent into the vagina. The color of its staining indicates whether the discharge takes place or not. For self-monitoring of the discharge pharmacies offer special sanitary napkins. They detect if there is amniotic fluid in the discharge by the presence of substances that can be found in this fluid only. Such tests make it easier to notice if there is any amniotic fluid leakage so that the woman can see the doctor in time.
Premature discharge of amniotic fluid: what to do?
Nowadays there is only one way to treat premature discharge of amniotic fluid: delivery or C-section as soon as possible. Attempts to maintain a pregnancy after the tearing of the placenta have frequent septic complications.
If the discharge of amniotic fluid has occurred you should go to the delivery room immediately. Remember: amniotic fluid is vital for your baby. The premature discharge of waters can have a negative effect on the baby or on the delivery process in general. Be safe and take care!