When it is said that the mother's womb is the safest place to be for a baby, it is indeed true. In the womb, from cushioning as they float to necessary food and nutrients, the amniotic fluid is what takes care of your baby. It is a slightly yellow coloured fluid that fills the sac that the baby floats in.
Your baby’s life support system depends majorly on the amniotic fluid. It does a lot more than offering protection to the baby. The development of muscles, organs, and critical body functions such as the digestive system are also aided greatly by the amniotic fluid.
The baby moves in the uterus with the help of amniotic fluid and it also helps the baby breathe. The baby swallows the amniotic fluid too. It is thus, a critical aspect of the baby's growth and development within the uterus.
However, in some cases, the volume of amniotic fluid is lower or higher than the ideal value. The condition when the volume is lower is termed as oligohydramnios.
Too little amniotic fluid in the womb may be risky for the baby. It can be measured by your healthcare practitioner in various ways. The most common procedure of assessing it is the amniotic fluid index (AFI) evaluation or deep pocket measurements. This test assesses the exact amount of fluid and that is then compared to the ideal values.
Below are some conditions that lead to the diagnosis of oligohydramnios:
• Level of fluid on the AFI is lower than 5 cm
• The fluid pocket is absent at depth of 2-3 cm
• At 32-36 weeks of pregnancy, the fluid volume is below 500ml
Oligohydramnios is possible anytime during the pregnancy but mostly occurs during the last trimester. A pregnancy overdue beyond 2 weeks stands a risk of low fluid levels.
Nearly 8% of women are diagnosed with low amniotic fluid levels whereas 4% of these stand a risk of oligohydramnios.
Main causes of low levels of amniotic fluid
• Birth defects: If the baby has an issue with the development of kidneys or the urinary tract it may lead to low urine generation. This causes low levels of amniotic fluid.
• Placenta issues: Fluid recycling may stop if the placenta does not provide adequate blood and nutrients to the baby.
• Membrane leaks and ruptures: If the membrane in the mother ruptures, it may cause amniotic fluid to trickle out slowly. This may cause low levels of fluid and is known as premature rupture of membranes (PROM)
• Overdue pregnancy: A pregnancy duration beyond 42 weeks experiences a deterioration in the functioning of the placenta. This, in turn, affects the fluid levels.
• Other issues with the mother: Issues such as dehydration, stress, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, etc. may affect the levels of amniotic fluid.
The risks involved depend on the gestational age when it affects the fluid level. For instance, Oligohydramnios in the first trimester is associated with a greater risk as compared to the other times. The complications at this stage are the following:
• Birth defects due to improper growth of fetal organs
• The possibility of miscarriage or stillbirth
Below are the complications associated if Oligohydramnios occurs in the second trimester:
• Premature birth
• Chances of cesarean
• Chances of meconium staining in the fluid
• IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction)
The ideal treatment for low levels of fluids depends greatly on the gestational age as well:
If you have not neared the full-term mark, the treatment will involve frequent monitoring of fluid levels and stress tests on baby activity.
However, in the case of close proximity to the full-term mark, most healthcare practitioners will recommend delivery.
There are other condition-based treatments as well. Your doctor will be able to guide you better for the same.
If you are diagnosed with Oligohydramnios at any stage of pregnancy, stay in touch with your doctor so the condition can be controlled and adequate steps can be taken on time.
Also read: Hydramnios: Excess Amniotic Fluid