What Causes Low Amniotic Fluid Levels (Oligohydramnios)?

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Amniotic fluid performs a crucial function during pregnancy. It provides your baby with room to move around, and it aids in the development of limbs, muscles, lungs, and digestive system. Unfortunately, approximately eight percent of expectant mothers have low amniotic fluid during their pregnancy. About four percent have low enough fluid to receive a diagnosis of oligohydramnios. Learn more about this condition, including what to expect if you are diagnosed with it, with help from the following information.

What Causes Low Amniotic Fluid During Pregnancy?

  • Several situations and conditions can lead to low amniotic fluid during pregnancy, including:
  • Birth defects (particularly those that may cause low urine production);
  • Certain maternal complications (dehydration, chronic hypoxia, diabetes, preeclampsia, etc.);
  • Carrying baby past term (particularly after 42 weeks’ gestation); and
  • Placental issues (which can limit the nutrients baby receives and can hinder their ability to recycle fluid).

Low Amniotic Fluid versus Oligohydramnios

Not all mothers who have low amniotic fluid end up developing oligohydramnios. In fact, some have slightly or moderately low levels that cause no complications for either mother or baby. However, those that do have oligohydramnios have amniotic fluid levels that are lower than the fifth percentile of all pregnant mothers. They and their babies may be at risk for serious complications, especially if the mother has exceeded her due date.

Potential Complications of Low Amniotic Fluid

The complications that a mother and her baby may experience because of low amniotic fluid or oligohydramnios typically depend on the time that the condition is discovered. For example, mothers who are diagnosed with oligohydramnios during the first half of their pregnancy may be at risk for serious complications, including an increased risk of experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth and compression of the baby’s organs, which may cause birth defects.

Complications in cases of oligohydramnios that are discovered during the second half of pregnancy may have less severe complications, but they are still concerning. In particular, babies may be at risk for Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), which limits baby’s growth, premature labor, and complications during labor that may lead to a cesarean delivery (i.e. meconium in the fluid, cord compression, etc.).

Treatment of Oligohydramnios

When mothers are not full term and have oligohydramnios, doctors typically delay delivery for as long as possible. However, during the pregnancy, baby and mother will be monitored closely, often with non-stress tests, contraction monitoring, and ultrasounds. Doctors may also inject fluid through an amniocentesis, which may only temporarily add fluid but may aid in determining if there are issues with the baby.

If the mother is near the end of her pregnancy and suffering from oligohydramnios, doctors may opt to go ahead and deliver the baby, but they may incorporate other treatment methods, such as amnio-infusion during labor or rehydration of the mother prior to and during labor. Such treatments can help increase the amniotic fluid temporarily and reduce the risk of cord compression.

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About the Author

Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done. Find out more about Kate’s books at authorkategivans.com.

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