Amniotic fluid forms an essential part of the baby’s life support system inside the mother’s womb. It provides a cushioning effect to protect the baby from injuries and also gives space for the baby to move around freely. It allows for the proper development of limbs and protects the umbilical cord from being damaged by less room between the uterine wall and growing baby. The fluid is initially mainly water provided by the mother, but gradually becomes mostly formed by the baby’s urine. Hence, less water during pregnancy may indicate some issues regarding baby’s health due to low urine output. The amount of amniotic fluid can sometimes be too low or too high, which must be treated as early as possible. Amniotic fluid deficiency can lead to pregnancy complications like birth defects or miscarriage.
Meaning of oligohydramnios:
The condition of having low amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac is called oligohydramnios. The expectant mother’s doctor can measure the amount of fluid using several techniques like deep pocket measurement or Amniotic Fluid Index. If the fluid is less than 500 ml in the last month of gestation or fluid level is lesser than 5 cm, then the woman may be expected to suffer from oligohydramnios. Around 4 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with low water level during pregnancy, meaning oligohydramnios. Though this condition can occur anytime during the gestation period, it is most common during the third trimester as the level of fluids decreases to almost half by the 41st week.
Low amniotic fluid causes:
There can be several reasons for decrease in amniotic fluid during pregnancy. The fluid level naturally comes down during the last weeks of pregnancy. However, prior reduction in amniotic fluid may be attributed to:
- Premature rupture of membranes in the amniotic sac can cause leaking or slow trickling of the amniotic fluid
- A condition called as placental abruption, where the placenta gets de- attached from uterine wall either partially or completely before delivery can cause oligohydramnios.
- Underdevelopment of the baby or certain heath problems like improper functioning of kidney could result in low urine output. In some cases, the placenta is unable to provide the baby with sufficient nutrients so the baby stops recycling fluid.
- Some heath conditions of the mother like preeclampsia, dehydration, diabetes or high blood pressure can also be the contributory factors for fluid deficiency during pregnancy. Anemia is not really a cause of loss of amniotic fluid, though many people think it is.
Treatment for low amniotic fluid:
All those who are diagnosed with oligohydramnios are recommended a specified course of treatment to prevent future pregnancy complications. The doctor might recommend having lots of fluids, especially if the mother is dehydrated. Low amniotic fluid at 40 weeks can be treated by multiple techniques to prevent complications during delivery.
- Intake of a lot of fluids and change in diet are the first steps that are recommended to increase the level of amniotic fluid. However, the course of treatment varies with the age of expecting lady as well as gestational age. For those who are not yet full terms, several tests including blood test, ultrasound and stress test follow to closely monitor the baby’s movements. For those who have completed the full term, delivery is suggested in most cases.
- Low amniotic fluid treatment options also include Amnio-infusion or amniocentesis. In the former, fluid is added with a catheter during labor which provides padding to the baby and lowers the chances of having a C-section. In the latter case, fluids are injected before delivery which gives the doctors an appropriate window to make diagnosis about baby’s condition.
Risks associated with oligohydramnios:
Can low amniotic fluid cause birth defects? This is a pertinent question in the mind of almost every mother. Unfortunately, it is true. Amniotic fluid is essential for healthy development of the baby’s limbs, lungs, digestive system and muscles. Apart from serving the function of cushioning the baby, during the second and third trimesters, babies swallow amniotic fluid which helps in fortifying the lungs. During the first trimester, oligohydramnios can cause complications like birth defects, and even miscarriage and stillbirth. During later stages, complications include premature labor, cord compression and C-section delivery.
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