What You Need to Know About Your Water Breaking

When it comes to the fascinating journey of pregnancy, one moment that many pregnant people anticipate is their water breaking—that telltale sign that labor is near. Here, we'll dive into this topic and discuss everything you need to know about water breaking, including the signs and symptoms that indicate your water has broken, and offer helpful tips and insights on what to do when it occurs and what happens after your water breaks.

What Happens When Your Water Breaks?

During pregnancy, your baby is surrounded by the amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac, which cushions and protects them. 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.

When the membranes of the amniotic sac rupture, the fluid comes out of your vagina. This is called the “bag of water breaking” or simply “water breaking.” It’s often one of the early signs of labor.

When Does Your Water Break?

Your water can break at the start of labor, later on during labor, or, in some cases, before labor starts—your healthcare provider may even break your water for you during labor. No matter how it happens, it’s a sign that your little one will soon be arriving.

If you're not already at the hospital or the place where you'll give birth, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider immediately to find out when to go to the hospital, even if contractions haven’t started yet. This helps avoid the risk of infection in the uterus.

Signs Your Water Is About to Break

There aren’t any signs indicating that your water is about to break—it just happens. However, if you’re experiencing other signs of labor such as contractions, your water might break shortly after.

What Causes Your Water to Break?

Medical experts don’t quite know what causes your water to break—it’s just part of that natural and magical process of labor and delivery.

What Does It Feel Like When Your Water Breaks?

For each pregnant person, water breaking is a unique experience—and it’s not always as dramatic as the movies make it out to be. Not only that, but if this isn’t your first labor, your experience might be different. So, how do you know if your water broke and what does water breaking look and feel like? Here are some of the signs of water breaking that you may feel and experience:

  • A slow leak or a sudden gush of fluid from your vagina

  • A slight pop with little water coming out or bursts of water breaking as you change positions

  • A little or a lot of fluid—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 with contractions, and continuing to leak some fluid until your baby is born

  • Fluid that’s clear or pale yellow in color when your water is breaking

  • Odorless fluid.

  • Thin and watery fluid.

How to Tell if Your Water Broke or You Peed

How do you know if your water broke? It can sometimes be difficult to tell if you’re leaking amniotic fluid or urine, particularly if you only experience an occasional trickle or dampness in your underwear. And what does the amniotic fluid look like compared to urine? First, note the color and smell of the fluid. As mentioned above, amniotic fluid is usually clear or pale yellow and odorless, whereas urine may have a more distinct smell and is occasionally yellower in color. And unlike urine, you won’t be able to hold in the amniotic fluid once your water breaks.

And if you’re wondering about water breaking vs discharge, it’s good to know that when your water breaks, the fluid is thin and watery, whereas discharge is usually thicker and stickier.

Call your healthcare provider for advice if you have any questions about what you're experiencing.

What Happens After Your Water Breaks?

If you suspect your water has broken, make a note of the time and contact your healthcare provider. You may also want totime your contractions if you’ve started having them—you can find our printable contraction tracking chart above. You may already be in labor, but if not, know that labor typically starts soon after your water breaks.

If your water breaks before you go into labor, this is known as the premature rupture of the membranes (PROM). This occurs about 8 to 10 percent of the time; for most pregnant people, the water breaks once they are in labor.

If your water breaks but you have no contractions, your healthcare provider may intervene to start or speed up labor after your water breaks, such as via labor induction. 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 provider, who will be able to confirm it.

How Long After Your Water Breaks Do You Have to Deliver?

You may be curious about how long after your water breaks you give birth. It’s hard to say, because the timing and length of labor and childbirth varies from person to person, with key factors including when your water broke, whether this is your first labor, and whether everything is progressing smoothly. However, once your water breaks, your healthcare provider will usually want delivery to happen within 24 to 48 hours.

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!

Are you mulling over your labor pain management options? Take our quiz and share your opinions on pain management during birth:

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

If your pregnancy is full-term and your water breaks, stay calm and contact your healthcare provider—it’s likely time to head to the hospital or where you plan to give birth. 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.

If it’s time to go to the hospital or birthing center, ideally your hospital bag is packed and ready to go 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 they were when they were 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 discounts you can get with the Pampers Club app!

What if Your Water Doesn’t Break?

If your water doesn’t break, you may wonder “how to get your water to break” or “how do doctors break your water?” This natural process usually happens on its own, but if your water isn’t breaking, your healthcare provider may need to intervene to help induce labor. Your provider may decide to rupture the amniotic sac during a vaginal exam, a procedure known as an amniotomy. In this case, labor should start within a few hours.

Though typically it doesn’t hurt when your water breaks, this procedure can be a little uncomfortable; you might feel a tug, followed by a warm trickle or gush of water.

Your healthcare provider is the expert and there to talk through your specific situation with you, but you can read some more information here about inducing labor.

It’s also important to note that it’s unsafe for you to break your water yourself at home. This is a natural process of labor, and you should allow your water to break naturally or with the help of your healthcare provider (if needed).

What if Your Water Breaks Preterm?

If your water breaks before you’ve reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, this is called a “preterm, prelabor rupture of membranes,” or PPROM. This is different from PROM mentioned above, 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 the uterine lining). Your healthcare provider will be able to discuss the risks associated with having a preterm baby and of delaying the labor.

It’s difficult to know the causes of water breaking preterm; however, some 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.

Learn more about the signs of premature labor and check out some information and FAQs on having a premature baby.

The Bottom Line

It's essential to remember that every pregnancy experience is unique. You may experience dramatic gushes or barely even notice when your water breaks. Regardless of the situation, it’s good to know the signs of water breaking so you can be prepared once it happens.

No matter how your water breaks, it's an important signal that your baby is getting ready to meet you. Take a deep breath, contact your healthcare provider, and focus on the task at hand. You’re so close now!

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.