Let’s get straight to the point. As we near the end of pregnancy it’s difficult to know what’s what when it comes to leaking ‘down below’.
This can leave us with many unanswered questions.
Is it wee? Is it vaginal discharge? Is it the waters breaking? Is amniotic fluid sticky?
Sometimes these questions are difficult to answer.
In this article we’ll answer some common questions about amniotic fluid, to help clear things up.
#1: What is amniotic fluid?
About 12 days after conception, the amniotic sac forms and fills with fluid.
The amniotic sac is also known as the membranes or bag of waters.
The sac consists of two membranes: the amnion and the chorion. Both are thin, but tough enough to withstand pressure and movements from your baby.
Usually just before or during labour, the sac will rupture and release amniotic fluid.
The amniotic fluid surrounding your baby has many vital roles:
- Protection. It acts as a cushion and shock absorber to protect your baby from injury
- Cord protection. Being surrounded by liquid prevents pressure on the cord, ensuring adequate blood flow and oxygen to your baby
- Temperature control. The fluid helps to insulate and maintain a consistent temperature around your baby, preventing heat loss
- Infection control. Amniotic fluid contains maternal antibodies that play a vital role in developing your baby’s immune system
- Muscle and bone development. Being able to move freely in the fluid helps your baby develop strong muscles and bones
- Lung and digestive development. Breathing in and swallowing the amniotic fluid helps your baby practise using the muscles of these systems as they develop
- Lubrication. The fluid protects parts of the body, such as fingers and toes, from sticking and then growing together during pregnancy.
#2: What is amniotic fluid made of?
Before the 20th week of pregnancy, amniotic fluid is mostly made up of fluid from the mother’s body.
After 20 weeks it gradually contains a greater proportion of fetal urine. Your baby practises swallowing and, eventually, what goes in must come out.
The amniotic fluid is vital to your baby’s development. It’s made up of hormones, carbohydrates, proteins, fats (lipids), enzymes and antibodies.
#3: What does amniotic fluid look like?
Normal amniotic fluid is a clear or straw coloured fluid, and looks similar to urine.
That’s why so many women wonder whether they’ve weed themselves or their waters have broken.
The fluid might also have flecks of white, blood or mucus in it.
#4: What is the consistency of amniotic fluid?
During pregnancy, one of the more common symptoms is increased vaginal discharge (leukorrhea).
This is usually a milky-white or clear fluid and is similar in consistency to egg white.
You can read more in Discharge During Pregnancy – What’s Normal and What’s Not.
Amniotic fluid, on the other hand, tends to have a more yellowish tint. It also has a thinner consistency than leukorrhea, similar to urine.
#5: What colour is amniotic fluid when it leaks?
The water around your baby should be clear or have a faint yellowish tint.
When your waters break, if they appear to be green or brown this is a sign that your baby has had a bowel movement inside.
The substance the baby passes is known as meconium, and it can cause complications, such as Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS).
Meconium in your waters can be a sign that your baby is distressed and usually involves closer monitoring in the hospital. Read more about meconium here.
#6: Did my waters break or is it discharge?
One of the hardest things to tell in late pregnancy is whether leaking fluid is normal vaginal discharge or amniotic fluid.
Excessive discharge could be your waters breaking.
Usually this is a steady trickle, or a gush of warm fluid when you move.
Amniotic fluid is usually clear or has a pale yellow tint. Discharge is more milky white and slightly thicker.
Most of the time when the amniotic sac breaks it doesn’t result in a huge gush of fluid like you see on TV.
Most often, it feels like a trickle or a leak of fluid in your underwear. It depends where in the amniotic sac the membranes have ruptured.
If the break occurs in the pocket of fluid in front of your baby’s head by the cervix, this can result in a gush of fluid.
If the membrane rupture occurs somewhere around the baby’s body, however, it will normally feel like a slow leak, as your baby’s head acts as a plug above the cervix.
When the waters break some women describe feeling a ‘pop’ sensation.
#7: How do you know if you’re leaking amniotic fluid?
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re leaking amniotic fluid, call your health care provider to discuss it further.
In the meantime, pop on a sanitary pad (not a panty liner, or a tampon) and observe the fluid you are losing.
After a couple of hours, if there’s very little on the pad, it’s unlikely to be your waters.
If there’s a lot on the pad, and it feels heavy, it’s likely you’re leaking amniotic fluid.
#8: What does amniotic fluid smell like?
Many women leak urine towards the end of pregnancy, due to the increased pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor muscles.
Many women also have increased discharge in the third trimester.
All this can be confusing and some women are not sure if their waters have broken.
If you’re unclear, try the ‘sniff test’.
This might sound disgusting, but it can give you a clue as to whether your membranes have gone.
Amniotic fluid doesn’t smell like urine. Your waters shouldn’t have a strong odor.
If anything, they might have a slightly metallic, or a slightly sweet, smell. Either way, it is definitely and noticeably different from the smell of urine.
#9: Is amniotic fluid sticky?
Amniotic fluid shouldn’t have a sticky consistency.
If you notice something sticky or a thick whitish residue in your underwear, it’s unlikely to be your waters.
It is more likely to be heavy vaginal discharge or signs of your mucus plug.
If your waters have broken, it feels like you are soaking through your underwear, rather than feeling just a bit damp.
When to call your doctor or midwife
Contact your midwife or doctor straight away if you have any of the following warning signs or symptoms:
- Waters break before 37 weeks
- Green or brown fluid
- Offensive odour
- You see or feel any part of the umbilical cord after the waters have broken
- Group Beta Strep (GBS) positive
- Reduced fetal movements