If you need to ship an item that is both treasured and fragile, you wouldn't just throw it in a box and slap some postage on it - you must first carefully surround it with materials that will both preserve and protect it for the duration of its journey.
If your developing fetus were this treasured and fragile item, then the amniotic fluid would be the packing-peanuts. The amniotic fluid is a crucial part of the system that supports and protects your developing child. The production of amniotic fluid begins shortly after the amniotic sac is formed, within just two weeks of conception. The amniotic sac is what your baby will call home for the next eight and a half months. In this metaphor we could compare the amniotic sac to the box or shipping container. It functions to protect the growing fetus from external pressures and from "getting knocked around" as the mother goes about her daily life.
The amniotic fluid starts as water provided by the mother and eventually becomes mostly fetal urine at about twenty weeks. During the first trimester, this fluid's main function is to help the growing baby move about within the womb. The fetus literally "swims" in the fluid, which helps to build muscle. During the second trimester, the baby will actually begin to breathe and swallow the amniotic fluid to help their tiny lungs grow and mature.
At its peak, around week 35, an entire liter of amniotic fluid should be present. This fluid is what people are talking about when they say "my water broke". The sac that has functioned to protect the baby ruptures and the water rushes out. At this point, your baby's sole source of support will be the umbilical cord until the impending birth.
Again, let's revisit our packaging example: When the package reaches its destination, the seal is broken and the packing peanuts are no longer needed. The item can be removed and the box and packing materials are tossed aside.
However, sometimes the seal is broken before it reaches its destination, which can cause the packing peanuts to spill out and put the contents of the package at risk. The same goes for your amniotic sac. The amniotic sac can sometimes rupture or start to leak before you go into labor. It can be a sudden rush of fluid (like your water breaking) or a slow and constant trickle of liquid. It can be difficult to detect whether you are leaking amniotic fluid. Your uterus, which houses the amniotic sac, rests directly on top of your bladder, which can cause a pregnant woman to leak urine. In this case, it can be difficult to distinguish between urine and amniotic fluid.
One way to figure out whether you are indeed leaking amniotic fluid is by scent. Amniotic fluid is a clear and odorless substance, whereas urine, as we all know, can have a distinctive scent and typically at least a hint of color. If the liquid does not appear to be urine, it is important that you contact your physician. Until your physician can meet with you, do not engage in sexual intercourse or use tampons. Avoid anything that might cause bacteria to enter your vaginal canal. Fluid that does not appear to be urine or amniotic fluid, such as a substance that is green or smelly is a cause for concern as this could be a sign of infection. There is not way to no to be certain without a visit to your health care provider, so make an appointment ASAP if you suspect you are leaking amniotic fluid.