Amniotic fluid (AF) is a bioactive medium containing various trophic factors and other nutrients that are necessary for fetal growth and organogenesis. Many trophic factors present in AF are responsible for the development of the fetal gastrointestinal tract. Development and maturation of the gastrointestinal tract is a complex cascade that begins before birth and continues during infancy and childhood by breastfeeding. Many factors, such as genetic preprogramming, local and systemic endocrine secretions, and many trophic factors from swallowed AF, modulate the development and growth of the gastrointestinal tract. Studies are currently examining a potential role of stem cells in AF as a protective agent against the development of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants. Preliminary studies suggest that simulated AF may be a possible means of reducing feeding intolerance. In this article, the authors review the various functions of AF and its importance in fetal gastrointestinal tract development. They also examine possible future uses of this extremely important bioactive fluid.
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