Although the movies make it seem like water breakage is similar to dumping a bucket of water out, this isn’t always the case. You may hardly notice your water breaking, or it may appear like a stream of liquid.
Here we’ll discuss what that “water” really is, signs that your water is breaking, and what to do next.
Why does your water break?
When we say water, we’re referring to amniotic fluid. The amniotic sac forms about 12 days after conception to protect your baby, provide him or her nutrients and antibodies, and maintain a steady temperature.
When your water breaks, the amniotic sac releases fluid. This is called a rupture of membranes, or ROM. In most cases, after your water breaks, labor (or contractions) begins within 12-24 hours. While ROM can occur before contractions, that only happens around 15% to 20% of the time.
If 24-hours pass and contractions still haven’t begun, professionals recommend inducing labor to avoid harming you and your baby. Premature ROM (PROM) can cause an infection that travels into the uterus.
In extremely rare cases, the baby can be born inside the amniotic sac (“en caul”), in which case your water never breaks.
Signs your water is breaking
The fluid is clear and odorless
Amniotic fluid is almost always odorless.
In terms of color, it’s typically clear.
If you see yellow, it’s likely urinary leaking. Babies put a lot of pressure on a woman’s bladder, so it’s not unusual for some incontinence to occur. Some women wear diapers!
If the fluid is white and creamy, then this is typically vaginal discharge. While it feels like liquid, it collects as a thicker substance.
Amniotic fluid is often clear, though in some cases, it may be a bit pink and have bloody streaks (nothing to worry about!).
In other instances, it may be green-yellow or green, in which case your baby passed a bowel movement, and there’s meconium in your fluid. You’ll want to tell your midwife or OB know, as this could affect delivery steps.
There is no smell or it’s slightly sweet
Healthy amniotic fluid is odorless, or it’s slightly sweet. Some women report it smells like bleach.
If your water breaks and there’s a foul odor, this is a sign of infection. If you aren’t at the hospital or with a professional when that happens, you need to contact one immediately to ensure your and your baby’s safety. A foul odor may be accompanied by fever.
It doesn’t stop when you stand up
While in movies the amniotic sac tends to burst and drop water like you’re dumping out a bucket, this isn’t always the case in real life.
Depending on whether or not you have a rupture or tear of the amniotic sac, your water breaking may mean a gush or simply a slow stream.
When you stand up, the leaking gets stronger. This is a sign that your water truly has broken. Expect to empty about 2 ⅓ to 3 cups of amniotic fluid. Consider wearing a panty liner or pad, or sitting on a washed towel, to control the mess. Never insert a tampon.
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You encounter pressure or popping
Some women hear a popping noise before their water breaks, where others feel pressure. While this in and of itself isn’t painful, contractions may increase after your water breaks. These can be notoriously painful!
It doesn’t always gush when it breaks
Remember how we said water doesn’t always break as it does in movies? Sometimes it feels like leaking urine. The rupture can seal up again, meaning only a tiny stream of fluid flows out. It’s also possible that your amniotic sac doesn’t rupture but only tears, like a pin-prick in a water balloon.
It’s possible for that small tear to seal up, too, sometimes before you arrive at the hospital.
What happens next?
Take note of when your water breaks and begin timing contractions. It’s impossible to say when the baby will arrive after your water breaks. This depends on many factors, such as whether it’s your first labor, when your water broke, and whether the process is going as it should.
For 8 to 10% of women, the water breaks before labor (this is the PROM mentioned earlier). Should this occur, your doctor may induce labor to reduce the risk of harm to you and your baby by way of infection.
If you’re at all uncertain about if your water broke or what to do next, contact your healthcare professional.
When to call your doctor or midwife
If your water breaks before 37-weeks of pregnancy, this would mean it broke preterm. In this case, it’s time to call your professional.
Further, if your water breaks but contractions don’t follow within 12- to 24-hours, your doctor or midwife may want to induce labor. This reduces the risk of infection that can travel up the uterus and harm you or the baby.
If your water breaks while your pregnancy is full-term, this is normal, and you may want to contact your midwife or doctor. They can advise you whether to get prepared for birth at home, head to a hospital or birthing center, and what to expect next.
Your water breaking is an exciting time! It means your baby is coming and, after a long 9-months, you get to finally meet your child.
Your water breaking may be sudden or simply a tiny stream. Contractions typically follow within 12- to 24-hours, and if not, labor may need to be induced. If you have any questions, contact your healthcare professional. They’ve seen this before and can walk you through it all.
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