Pregnancy

Pregnant woman with an exposed stomach lying down under heavy lighting in front of black background.
Mark Andersen/Rubberball Productions/Getty Images

What Does Amniotic Fluid Smell Like? A Nurse Explains

If you’re really worried, though, call your OB.

During pregnancy, there is a lot happening downtown — from discharge to pressure, and even unexpected leaking. Unfortunately, when it feels like the tap has turned on, it’s hard to tell if it’s pee, amniotic fluid, or perhaps all of the above. One way you may be able to determine what it is is by smell. If you’re at all worried that you may be leaking amniotic fluid, you should call your OB-GYN or health care provider immediately. But while you wait to hear back from them, you may be trying to figure out what’s going on yourself — we get it. So how can you tell what’s going on? What does amniotic fluid look like? What does amniotic fluid smell like?

What is amniotic fluid?

First, it’s helpful to know what amniotic fluid is, exactly and why it’s a problem if you’re leaking it. Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds your baby in the amniotic sac. It’s there to cushion your baby, provide them with a lovely swimming pool so that their body can learn to move, and it is the first liquid they learn to swallow, among other things. Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, it’s either mostly water, or it’s a fairly complex blend of water from the pregnant person’s body, the baby’s urine, and other carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins that aid your baby’s growth. If you are leaking amniotic fluid, it could be because you’re going into labor, or, if you’re not yet at term, it could be a sign of a premature rupture of membranes (PROM), an indication of preterm labor, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.

Maximiliano Neira/Moment/Getty Images

What does amniotic fluid smell like?

Differentiating between potential fluids that you might be leaking when you’re pregnant is important. And it can be confusing because — let’s face it — a sneeze the wrong way can send your underwear right into the laundry. Thankfully, urine is mostly easy to identify by the smell. It’s vaguely acidic, and has an ammonia smell that isn’t super fun. But what does amniotic fluid smell like? “Amniotic fluid smells like bleach or semen,” says certified nurse and midwife Caitlin Goodwin.

“Some describe the smell as sweet,” Goodwin says, “Although I’ve never observed that.” The real kicker is that sometimes, amniotic fluid has no smell at all, so you may not actually be able to tell if what you feel like you are ‘leaking’ is amniotic fluid just by smell. In other words? If you do think that you’re leaking amniotic fluid, you should immediately call to your OB-GYN or health care provider. Leaking amniotic fluid is not something to mess around with. With my last pregnancy, I started leaking fluid at 35 weeks, and eventually went on modified activity because of it. (She took her sweet time and came at almost 39 weeks, healthy and screaming.) Pregnancy makes you a bit of a body detective, and generally, that’s a good thing. If you think something isn’t right, it’s always OK to call your health care provider. Even if everything is A-OK, knowing can really put your mind at ease.

Source interviewed:

Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM

Studies Referenced:

Soens, M., & Tsen, L. C. (2019). In Chestnut's obstetric anesthesia: Principles and practice (Sixth, pp. 77–79). essay, Elsevier.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. (2014, August 24). Premature rupture of membranes (prom)/preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Retrieved July 31, 2022, from https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/premature-rupture-membranes-prompreterm-premature-rupture-membranes-pprom#:~:text=Premature%20rupture%20of%20membranes%20(PROM)%20is%20a%20rupture%20(breaking,10%20percent%20of%20all%20pregnancies.