What You Need to Know About Your Water Breaking
Movies often show that the expectant mother's water breaks in a wild gush that signals she's about to give birth. In real life, it may not be so dramatic. Some moms may only experience a slow trickle of water, and for many moms, there is still a while to go before the baby is born. Read on to find out more about what it can feel like when your water breaks and what comes next. No need to panic — your healthcare provider will let you know what to do next.
What Happens When Your Water Breaks
During pregnancy, your baby is surrounded by the amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac, which cushions and protects your baby. Amniotic fluid also helps your baby’s lungs and digestive system develop, while keeping the surrounding temperature steady. During the second half of pregnancy, your baby’s urine makes up most of the fluid, but nutrients, hormones, and antibodies (which help fight infection) are also present. At the start of labor, later on during labor, or, in some cases, before labor starts, the membranes of the sac rupture. This is called the “bag of water breaking” or simply “water breaking.” It is often one of the early signs of labor, and medical experts don’t quite know what causes your water to break.
What It Feels Like When Your Water Breaks
For each mom-to-be, her water breaking is a unique experience. Not only that, but if this isn’t your first labor, your experience might be different this time. The signs of water breaking include feeling a slow leak or a sudden gush of water. Some women feel a slight pop, while others might feel fluid coming out in bursts as they change positions. The way the fluid comes out might vary in part because the baby’s head may be acting like a cork, plugging the cervix so that when it moves, more fluid can escape. More fluid may also come out when you have contractions, and you’ll continue to leak some fluid until your baby is born. It’s a good idea to place a towel where you sit down at home or on the car seat on your way in to the hospital to avoid getting amniotic fluid everywhere.
The color of the fluid when your water breaks is usually clear or pale yellow, and the fluid has no smell. The fluid level reaches its peak by about week 36 of pregnancy, when there are about 4 cups of fluid, but from then on the amount of fluid slowly decreases. Check out this short video on what happens when your water breaks, with insights provided by a labor and delivery nurse.
In the movies, we can always tell when a woman has broken her water. In real life, you don’t always get that big gush.
Kate McCabe, RNC-OB, New York Area Hospital
How do you know when your water breaks? It can sometimes be difficult to tell when your water has broken, particularly if you only experience an occasional trickle, or if you only find dampness in your underwear. If you’re in any doubt, call your healthcare provider. You can always confirm it via a physical exam or ultrasound.
What Happens After Your Water Breaks
If you suspect your water has broken, make a note of the time. You may also want to time your contractions, if you’ve started having them. You may already be in labor, but if not, labor typically starts soon after your water breaks. You’re probably wondering how long after your water breaks your baby will come. It’s hard to say, because the length of labor and childbirth varies from woman to woman, and it also depends on other factors including when your water broke, whether this is your first labor, and whether everything is progressing smoothly. You can learn more about what to expect in the case of a vaginal birth. Remember: the long months of waiting are nearly over, and you’ll meet your baby soon enough!
If your water breaks before you go into labor, this is known as the premature rupture of the membranes (PROM). This occurs in only about 8 to 10 percent of women; for most moms-to-be the water breaks once they are in labor. If your water breaks, but you have no contractions, your doctor may discuss labor induction with you. Intervention to help bring on contractions can reduce the risk of infection, because this risk increases with time between the water breaking and contractions starting.
If you’re in any doubt about whether labor has begun, consult your healthcare provider, who will be able to confirm it.
For even more expert guidance, watch our What Happens When Your Water Breaks video, which you can find on the “Nurses Know” video guides page.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
If your pregnancy is full-term and your water breaks, stay calm and contact your healthcare provider to get advice on when to head in to the hospital or birthing center. You should also contact your healthcare provider if
Your water breaks preterm, which is any time before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Contractions don’t start even though your water has broken. Your provider may suggest inducing labor in this case.
In case your provider advises you to go to the hospital, make sure your hospital bag is packed ahead of time with all the essentials you’ll need. Don’t forget to have a few copies of your birth plan packed, too.
What You Can/Can’t Do Once Your Water Has Broken
Once your water has broken your baby is no longer as protected from infection as he was inside the fluid-filled sac. To be on the safe side, your provider may recommend you avoid having a bath or using tampons.
After your water breaks, you may still have some time to kill before active labor begins. You can still move around to find more comfortable positions, get a relaxing massage, watch a movie, or even spend some time looking at all the cool things you can get with the Pampers Rewards app!
What If Your Water Doesn’t Break
If your water doesn’t break, and your healthcare provider needs to intervene to help induce labor, your provider can rupture the amniotic sac during a vaginal exam. In this case, labor should start within a few hours. It does not hurt when your water breaks, but this procedure can be a little uncomfortable; you might feel a tug, followed by a warm trickle or gush of water. Your provider is the expert and there to talk through your specific situation with you, but you can read about some of the reasons labor may need to be induced here.
What If It Breaks Preterm
If your water breaks before you’ve reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, this is called a preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM. This is different from PROM, which is when the water breaks shortly before the onset of labor. Contact your healthcare provider right away if your water breaks preterm. Together you can discuss the best course of action based on how many weeks pregnant you are and the health of you and your baby. Your water breaking early can also increase the risk of infection and placental abruption (when the placenta peels away from uterine lining). Your healthcare provider will be able to discuss the risks associated with having a preterm baby and of delaying the labor.
Risk factors for PPROM include:
Having had a PPROM in a previous pregnancy
Having inflammation of the fetal membranes
Having had vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimesters
Smoking during pregnancy
Being underweight with poor nutrition
Having a short cervix
No matter how your water breaks, it's an important signal that your baby is getting ready to meet you. Take a deep breath, and focus on the task at hand. You’re so close now!
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