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Amniotic Fluid

By
Daisy Rogozinsky
/
August 22, 2022

Amniotic fluid is an important part of keeping a fetus healthy. In this article, we’ll define the term “amniotic fluid” and explain how it relates to birth injury law. 

Key Takeaways

  • Amniotic fluid is liquid surrounding a fetus in the womb, contained in the amniotic sac.
  • Amniotic fluid keeps the fetus healthy and protected with a variety of nutrients, hormones, and antibodies.
  • Functions of the amniotic fluid include cushioning the fetus, protecting it from infection, and regulating its body temperature.
  • Amniotic fluid disorders include oligohydramnios (too little amniotic fluid), polyhydramnios (too much amniotic fluid), leaking amniotic fluid, and amniotic fluid embolism.

What Is Amniotic Fluid?

Amniotic fluid is a liquid that surrounds a fetus in the womb. When a person’s “water breaks,” it is amniotic fluid leaking from the vagina. 

The fetus grows inside an amniotic sac filled with amniotic fluid that forms approximately 12 days after the beginning of the pregnancy. Amniotic fluid contains a variety of things including nutrients, hormones, antibodies, and other fluids all to keep the fetus protected and healthy. It is constantly circulating as the fetus swallows and urinates it out. 

Having too little or too much amniotic fluid can be problematic for a pregnant person or the fetus. 

What Does the Amniotic Fluid Do?

The amniotic fluid has many functions related to the fetus’s growth and development. Some of these include:

  • Helping the fetus's muscles and bones develop
  • Protecting the fetus from its parent’s movements 
  • Cushioning the fetus's movements and helping them move
  • Helping the fetus's digestive and respiratory systems develop
  • Protecting the fetus from infection
  • Preventing the umbilical cord from getting compressed
  • Regulating the fetus's body temperature

Amniotic Fluid Disorders

When there is too much or too little amniotic fluid, it can be problematic. Amniotic fluid disorders include:

Oligohydramnios

Oligohydramnios is when there are too low levels of amniotic fluid. This occurs in four percent of all pregnancies. Oligohydramnios is particularly problematic during the first six months of pregnancy, during which there is a higher risk of birth defects, loss of pregnancy, preterm birth, or stillbirth.

Risk factors for oligohydramnios include:

  • Problems with the placenta like abruption
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple pregnancies like twins or triplets
  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Birth defects such as kidney abnormalities
  • Preeclampsia
  • Prior growth-restricted pregnancies
  • Lupus
  • Delivering past the due date
  • Other unknown reasons

Polyhydramnios 

Polyhydramnios is when there are too high levels of amniotic fluid. This occurs in one percent of all pregnancies. 

Polyhydramnios can be caused by:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders, including duodenal or esophageal atresia, gastroschisis, and diaphragmatic hernia
  • Fetal heart rate problems
  • Fetal lung abnormalities
  • Brain or nervous system disorders, such as anencephaly or myotonic dystrophy
  • infection
  • Hydrops fetalis, an abnormal level of water build-up inside multiple body areas of a fetus
  • Mismatched blood between mother and child like Rh incompatibility or Kell diseases
  • Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome where one child gets more blood flow than the other
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, a congenital growth disorder
  • Achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder
  • Poorly controlled maternal diabetes

Leaking Amniotic Fluid

Sometimes, amniotic fluid leaks before the water breaks. This is usually a sign that labor will begin soon. If the fluid is green, brownish, or foul-smelling, it may indicate the presence of fetal feces or an infection, in which case medical advice should be sought. 

Amniotic Fluid Embolism

Amniotic fluid embolism (AFE), is a rare condition occurring when the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus enters the mother’s bloodstream. This can sometimes trigger a severe allergic reaction in the mother that leads to blood clotting in the blood vessels and lungs. This leads to death in 20 - 60% of cases. 

Amniotic Fluid and Birth Injury Law

While some amniotic fluid conditions are unavoidable, others can be caused by medical malpractice. For example, an amniotic fluid embolism can be caused by some procedures, induction methods, and operations. A failure to properly manage amniotic fluid conditions or take proper precautions to account for the increased risk of secondary complications is also considered medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one have experienced complications in childbirth due to a healthcare professional’s negligence, it is recommended you speak to an experienced birth injury lawyer who will be able to help guide you through the legal process of seeking compensation.

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