One of the first ways we protect our babies as mothers-to-be is through amniotic fluid.
Amniotic fluid is made up of plasma from the mother. It also contains urine and secretions from the baby. It cushions and protects baby from the outside world, giving him a safe space to grow and develop.
When a woman's "water" breaks, we are, of course, talking about amniotic fluid.
The water "breaks" when either the baby's head pushes down enough so that the amniotic sac, which houses the baby in the amniotic fluid, breaks. Or a force, like the doctor breaking through the membrane, causes the sac to open.
To be honest, we still don't know exactly what levels of amniotic fluid are necessary and optimal for a baby's health, development, and safety.
But we do know that in some circumstances, a woman's body can produce too much amniotic fluid. On the flip side, if there’s too little amniotic fluid, the mother is diagnosed with a condition called oligohydramnios.
What Is Oligohydramnios?
In simple terms, oligohydramnios is a lower-than-normal level of amniotic fluid.
There are four pockets to measure. Oligohydramnios is defined as no pocket of amniotic fluid greater than 2 cm, or an amniotic fluid index of 5 cm or less.
It is diagnosed with an ultrasound.
What Causes Oligohydramnios?
Oligohydramnios can have several different causes, including:
- rupture of the membranes (your water breaking)
- a placental abruption, in which part or all of the placenta detaches from the uterus
- health problems in the mother, primarily high blood pressure
- birth defects or problems with the baby
Is Oligohydramnios Dangerous?
It might seem like just "water," but amniotic fluid is actually a rich, nutritive, and diverse component of your baby's development.
Your baby actually absorbs essential nutrients and vitamins like amino acids through amniotic fluid. Experts think that your baby might absorb other nutrients such as carbohydrates through the amniotic fluid, too.
Amniotic fluid also plays a protective role for your baby. It cushions him and works as the first immune system to fight off any bad bacteria. It helps him build up his own defense mechanisms.
Amniotic fluid might even have "healing" properties. Babies who have had surgery in utero earlier during pregnancy show less signs of scarring than other babies, when less amniotic fluid is present.
With too little amniotic fluid, your baby's lungs are at risk of not developing properly. Delivery could be more risky because the cord could more easily be compressed without amniotic fluid to cushion it.
How Is Oligohydramnios Treated?
Unfortunately, there aren't many effective treatments for oligohydramnios. That’s because it's hard to pinpoint the underlying causes for low amniotic fluid in the first place.
There is a procedure called amnioinfusion, when a woman can literally have fluid placed back into her uterus. But because you can only do this once her water has broken, it's hard to keep the fluid in.
It also isn’t the same as the amniotic fluid her body would naturally produce.
Maternal rehydration with oral fluids or an IV has also been shown to help increase amniotic fluid levels.
Because oligohydramnios is often linked to fetal growth restriction, you and your baby will be closely monitored during your pregnancy. An early delivery might be necessary if the baby is not thriving in the womb.
There is no "one size fits all" treatment for the condition. You will need to be monitored and treated on an individual basis depending on the cause and severity of your oligohydramnios.