Oligohydramnios: Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Bethany Lieberman

Bethany is a certified OB/GYN nurse who has a master's degree in Nursing Education.

You have likely heard the term, but do you know what amniotic fluid is? Why it is important for a developing baby? In this lesson, you will learn about a condition known as oligohydramnios, as well as its causes and treatment options.

What Is Amniotic Fluid?

Have you ever wondered what exactly that fluid is inside a pregnant lady's womb? Well, it's amniotic fluid, which is actually mostly baby pee. That's right; pee! So, basically, babies developing inside the womb are floating around drinking their own pee and urinating it back out. The amniotic fluid protects the baby and helps it develop. The amount of amniotic fluid is a way for doctors to measure how well the baby is growing. Since we know it is mostly baby pee, it gives us a picture of how well the baby's kidneys are functioning.


Doctors have studied how much amniotic fluid a pregnant woman should typically have, usually between 5 and 20 centimeters. A woman is diagnosed with a condition called oligohydramnios when there is less than five centimeters of fluid on two or more studies. This can happen at any point during pregnancy, but it is more likely to occur during the last trimester.

I know what you're probably thinking; how exactly is amniotic fluid inside a uterus measured? Well, it is measured using an ultrasound machine, which a doctor uses to measure the pockets of fluid around the baby, and then adds up the total.


There is no known cause for oligohydramnios, but doctors have a few ideas. Low fluid can point out a birth defect in the baby's urinary tract or kidneys. Another possibility is that the mother's water may have broken (ruptured membranes), which can expose the baby to infection. Conditions affecting the mom's health can cause decreased blood flow through the placenta to the baby. These include dehydration, high blood pressure, diabetes, preeclampsia, or a separated placenta (placental abruption). Also, babies past their due date (post-term) may have low amniotic fluid.

What Does Having Low Amniotic Fluid Mean?

Babies need amniotic fluid to help them move and grow. The fluid adds a protective cushion and helps keep the umbilical cord from being compressed. Picture the umbilical cord like a garden hose, which keeps vital nutrients and oxygen flowing to the baby. If compressed, it can deprive a baby of oxygen, which can cause developmental delays or even death.

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