What Does Amniotic Fluid Smell Like?

Amniotic Fluid: Appearance and Smell

While you are eagerly waiting for the arrival of your baby, you may notice liquid leaking out between your legs. Could it be that your water has broken? Or, are you simply leaking urine? Here’s how to tell if it’s amniotic fluid that you’re seeing, what it could mean for your pregnancy and what to do about it.

What Is Amniotic Fluid?

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Amniotic fluid is the fluid within the amniotic sac that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. It serves several important functions, including cushioning and protecting your baby, keeping a steady temperature around your baby, helping your baby’s lungs, muscles and bones develop, and keeping the umbilical cord out of harm’s way.

Initially, amniotic fluid is made up of water that comes from your body. After about halfway through the pregnancy, though, the fluid changes: Now, it’s mostly your baby’s urine. Besides your baby’s urine, amniotic fluid contains nutrients, hormones and antibodies. By about the 36-week mark of pregnancy, the amniotic fluid totals about one quart of liquid.

When Your Water Breaks

Before the birth of your baby, the amniotic sac ruptures, releasing the amniotic fluid. The moment this happens is commonly referred to as when your “water breaks.” Unlike the usual portrayals in movies, the moment when your water breaks may not mean a big gush of water spilling out all at once. In reality, only one in 10 women experience a big gush of water. Instead, it may mean simply a slow trickle down your leg for an extended period of time. The timing as to when you water breaks also varies: Water can break both prior to or during labor.

Call your doctor if you think your water has broken, since it’s likely a sign that labor is near. Most often, labor begins within 24 hours after the water breaks.

How to Tell if It’s Amniotic Fluid

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Fluid leaking out of your vagina doesn’t always mean that your water has broken. Toward the end of your pregnancy, glands in your vagina secrete lubrication in preparation for birth. Many women also leak small amounts of urine during pregnancy. If you’re leaking fluid, wear a pad to absorb it and then examine the pad. Amniotic fluid doesn’t have a distinctive odor like urine, and it’s typically clear.

However, if your baby has his first bowel movement (meconium) while in the womb, that fluid also can be green or brown. It’s especially important to seek medical care immediately if the fluid is green or brown, since this means that your baby may have some meconium in her lungs. A baby with meconium in her lungs can have serious breathing problems after birth that requires immediate treatment.

Oligohydramnios

Another reason to contact your doctor if you suspect that you’re leaking amniotic fluid is that leaking can, in some rare cases, result in oligohydramnios. Oligohydramnios can cause serious problems, including miscarriage, birth defects, premature birth, stillbirth, slow growth of the baby, and labor and birth difficulties. Oligohydramnios can be especially dangerous if it occurs during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. Your doctor may measure the amount of amniotic fluid with an ultrasound and watch for other signs of oligohydramnios, such as low weight gain in the mother or slow growth of the baby.

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