A woman lies in bed and holds her pregnant belly.
The amniotic fluid in your womb keeps your baby warm and cozy—but it also helps your baby identify your smell, which helps later with breastfeeding. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Everybody loves that “new” smell.

New car. New clothes. New flowers.

New human? You bet. Newborn babies have what can only be described as a pristine, welcome-to-the-world smell—fresh, bright, beautiful, warm and cheery.

Well, most of the time.

When babies are born, they can actually get quite gunky, for lack of another word. They might have blood, mucous, amniotic fluid, meconium and vernix on their skin.

Some moms want their baby cleaned up a bit before they hold them.

Some moms don’t care—they just want to hold their new precious bundle.

Either way, it’s good to know what to expect before your little one pops into the world.

The golden hour—that precious hour immediately after birth—is a great chance to meet your new baby and get at least a first sense of their preferences.

Fluid check

We don’t often expect a smell from amniotic fluid. It doesn’t happen often—but it does happen. It can be a sign of an infection called chorioamnionitis.

Mom and baby may both show various symptoms of chorioamnionitis. Mom can have a fever, low heart rate, low blood pressure and sweating, while baby may experience a higher heart rate and an odor. This condition can be treated.

What is amniotic fluid?

Your baby’s time is spent entirely in utero, floating around in the amniotic sac. Your body starts producing amniotic fluid within 12 days after conception, with baby growing inside this sac of fluid.

The amniotic fluid itself is made from mom’s body. The fluid, which has a slightly yellowish hue, is mostly water but it also contains hormones and antibodies. Your baby swallows the fluid, then urinates, too, which adds to the fluid.

After 20 weeks, the fluid is mostly made from baby.

What does amniotic fluid do?

First off, it cushions baby. Think of it as a feeling similar to floating while swimming. But it’s not just about comfort. The amniotic fluid allows baby’s muscles and bones to develop, all as baby moves about in the fluid.

Other features of amniotic fluid:

  • We may think swallowing the fluid sound gross, but your baby does in fact swallow it. It can help develop the baby’s digestive tract, as well as helping the lungs develop as the baby takes in the fluid.
  • The fluid also gives the umbilical cord room to move, so it won’t get compressed. It also stops webbing in fingers and toes by allowing lubrication between them.
  • It helps to maintain a comfortable temperature for baby.
  • It later helps baby breastfeed. Baby recognizes the amniotic fluid smell on mom, which encourages recognition and latching during breastfeeding.

Parting thoughts

When mom’s water breaks before or during labor, we ask how much fluid she’s noticed and if there was any color to it. We also ask if there was any smell, which would indicate chorioamnionitis.

Stress can cause your baby to have a bowel movement in utero. We don’t know what causes stress in babies, but we do know that some stress can actually help baby’s lungs develop.

If the amniotic fluid is meconium-stained—that is, it looks green or brown—we’ll want to check baby to see if any was swallowed.

While amniotic fluid may seem messy, it really has an amazing role in the life of a newborn.