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What is water breaking?
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.
What does it mean when your water breaks?
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.
How do you know if your water breaks?
Your water may have broken if you experience:
- A popping feeling followed by a gush or trickle of fluid from your vagina.
- Fluid in your underwear or down your leg in either small or large amounts.
- Wetness that’s odorless and clear or pale yellow.
- Uncontrollable leaking from the vagina that you can’t “hold in.”
- Leaking fluid that’s thin and watery instead of thick and sticky.
- Leaking fluid followed by contractions that are stronger than before.
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.
What triggers your water breaking?
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.
What are the signs that your water is going to break?
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.
What does it feel like when your water breaks?
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.
Can your water break early?
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:
- Have vaginal bleeding in the second or third trimesters.
- Have inflammation or an infection.
- Have had previous PROM.
- Have a short cervix.
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:
- Using antibiotics to prevent infection.
- Using steroids to mature the fetus’s lungs.
- Using magnesium sulfate for the fetus’s brain.
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.
Care and Treatment
How long after your water breaks do you have to deliver?
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.
How long after your water breaks do you go into labor?
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.
When to Call the Doctor
How do you tell if your water broke or you peed?
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:
- Pee is usually dark yellow and has a distinct odor. Amniotic fluid is mostly clear or light yellow (although it can be tinged brown or red) and odorless.
- You can’t stop amniotic fluid. If your water breaks, you won’t be able to “hold it” like you can with pee.
- Amniotic fluid continues to leak (sometimes with a contraction) where urine doesn’t. In most cases, your bladder empties and doesn’t fill up again that quickly.
- There’s usually more amniotic fluid than pee. At 36 weeks of pregnancy, you can have up to 4 cups of amniotic fluid (it goes down as your baby’s due date gets closer). The human bladder can only hold 2 cups of pee.
When do I call my doctor if my water broke?
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:
- How much fluid came out?
- What color was it?
- Did it have a smell?
- Did it have a texture?
- How long has it been since it happened?
- Are you having contractions?
- Did you test positive for group B strep (group B streptococcus)?
- How many weeks are you?
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can your water break without you knowing?
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.
How much water comes out when your water breaks?
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.
Does your water always break?
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.
Will a doctor break my water?
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.
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