Your water breaking is a sign that labor is coming. The fluid you feel gushing or trickling from your vagina is amniotic fluid, the liquid that surrounds and protects a fetus. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you believe your water broke.
A fetus grows inside a “bag of waters” called the amniotic sac during pregnancy. The amniotic sac is inside your uterus. It’s filled with a water-like fluid (called amniotic fluid) that protects the fetus. When the amniotic sac tears, amniotic fluid comes out of your vagina. This is your “water breaking,” and it’s a sign that delivery is right around the corner. Your water can break at any time — before labor begins, after contractions have started or right before delivery. Your healthcare provider may even break your water for you (amniotomy). The amount of water that comes out can look like a bucket of water spilling. Or it can be a slow trickle that goes unnoticed.
Another name for water breaking is rupturing of the membranes.
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Your water breaking means contractions will start soon (if they haven’t already) and that delivery is coming. Call your healthcare provider if you think your water broke so they can determine what to do next. Amniotic fluid is a protective barrier, and without it, the fetus is at risk for infection and other medical conditions.
Your water may have broken if you experience:
If you’re unsure if your water broke, it’s helpful to put on a clean pair of underwear or a sanitary pad. Don’t put a tampon inside your vagina. Lie down and try to relax for 15 to 30 minutes. When you stand up, see if fluid comes out. If the fluid is your water breaking, it should come out when you stand. Note the color, the amount and the smell. This can also help you decide if it’s amniotic fluid, pee or vaginal discharge.
Only your healthcare provider can confirm if your water has broken with a vaginal exam, nitrazine paper or litmus paper. Litmus and nitrazine paper change color on contact with amniotic fluid.
No one is entirely sure what happens in a person’s body to cause the amniotic sac to break. Some experts think it’s caused by signals in the fetus’s brain or from hormones that weaken the amniotic sac.
There are no signs that your water is going to break; however, most people will be in labor and have contractions before their water breaks. So, if you’re in labor and experiencing contractions, your water can break at any moment.
It feels a little different for everyone. The fetus’s head acts as a cork to plug the cervix. Some people feel a popping sensation followed by a gush of fluid, while others feel nothing. Amniotic fluid can trickle into your underwear like a raindrop or rush down your legs like a waterfall. As contractions progress and as the fetus moves, more fluid can leak. It doesn’t hurt when your water breaks, so you shouldn’t feel any pain.
Yes, your water can break before you’re full-term or 37 weeks pregnant. This is called premature (or prelabor) rupture of the membranes (PROM). It happens in about 8% to 10% of pregnancies. You’re at an increased risk of PROM if you:
There are several courses of treatment your healthcare provider may take if your water breaks early.
If you’re at least 34 weeks pregnant, delivery might be the safest choice. If you’re less than 34 weeks pregnant, your healthcare provider may delay delivery by:
If you’re less than 24 weeks pregnant, there’s a chance your baby will need to be delivered preterm. Your healthcare provider will discuss the risks and benefits with you and help you decide what’s best for your baby.
The exact timing will vary depending on how far you are in pregnancy and if you have any health conditions. In most cases, your pregnancy care provider will want to deliver your baby within 24 to 48 hours. If your baby is preterm (less than 37 weeks of pregnancy), your healthcare provider may be able to use medication to delay delivery. This usually requires careful monitoring in the hospital.
For most people (up to about 90%), labor starts before their water breaks. If you’re having contractions, you’re already in labor. These contractions usually intensify once your water has broken. If you have no other labor symptoms, contractions will typically start within 24 hours of your water breaking.
It can be hard to tell the difference between leaking pee or amniotic fluid, especially if you’re in the middle of contractions. There are a few factors that may help you tell the difference:
You should contact your healthcare provider right away if you believe your water has broken, especially if accompanied by fever, foul-smelling odors, blood or a change in the fetus’s movements. If you’re not sure if your water broke, they can help you.
Once you contact your provider, they may ask questions like:
Remain calm and try not to panic. In most cases, your healthcare provider will want to deliver your baby within 48 hours of your water breaking, although the timing can vary depending on your medical history and how many weeks you are in pregnancy.
Yes, your water may break without you knowing. You might be unsure whether the drips or trickles are amniotic fluid, pee or vaginal discharge. Inspecting your underwear or pad for smells or color can help you determine what it is. Despite what you see in movies, your water breaking might not be dramatic. Contact your healthcare provider if you’re uncertain if your water is breaking.
It depends. Some people lose a little bit at a time, while others will experience several large gushes. Your amniotic sac holds up to 4 cups of amniotic fluid at 36 weeks. As your baby’s due date approaches, the volume of amniotic fluid goes down. At 40 weeks of pregnancy, there are about 2.5 cups of amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac.
Yes, for a vaginal delivery your water must break. However, it doesn’t need to break before cesarean delivery. In rare cases, your baby can be born while still inside the amniotic sac.
Your healthcare provider may break your water. This is an amniotomy. It involves inserting a thin tool through the vagina to break the amniotic sac. It’s performed when labor has stalled or to speed up labor.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your water breaking is a sign that delivery is right around the corner. It can break before labor starts or once contractions have already begun. Knowing whether your water has broken can be confusing. Some people feel a strong and sudden gush of fluid from their vagina, while others feel a trickle. If your water breaks too soon, it could lead to premature birth. In full-term pregnancies, it may mean it’s time to go to the hospital. Call your healthcare provider if you believe your water has broken so they can help you figure out your next steps.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2022.
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