How Do You Know If Your Water Broke?

Written by: Alyssa Larsen

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Time to read 6 min

During the third trimester of your pregnancy, you may find that thoughts anticipating labor and delivery are always on your mind. More specifically you might question: How do I know if my water broke?


Knowing when your water breaks and what to do about it is a valid concern for pregnant women, especially first-time moms. Don’t panic, it’s a natural part of labor. Learning more about the process will help you make calm decisions when the time comes to welcome your baby into the world.

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What is Water Breaking During Pregnancy?

Medically, your water breaking is called ruptured membranes. Your baby has been growing in a protective pool of liquid, called amniotic fluid, surrounded by a thin layer of tissue, called an amniotic sac, housed inside your uterus. When the wall of the amniotic sac ruptures (breaks), the amniotic fluid (water) leaves your body through the cervix and out the vaginal canal. 

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Suppose you’ve reached full term in your pregnancy when this happens. You’ll most likely be experiencing other signs of labor to let you know the big moment has arrived.

Your water breaking can come as a gush of fluid or a slow trickle; this depends on the size of the rupture and the position of the baby. If you’re lying down, you’re more likely to feel a larger release of fluid than you would while standing. When you’re upright, the natural position of the baby can act as a plug not allowing the amniotic fluid to pass through.

Some pregnant women don’t experience a spontaneous rupture of the membranes at all. Often, an obstetrician will perform an amniotomy. This is when the doctor uses a medical tool to intentionally break the bag of water. If your labor symptoms have been mild up until now, breaking the amniotic sac may significantly advance the speed and intensity of labor.

Can Your Water Break Early?

Although it’s uncommon for most pregnant women, yes, your water can break early. Medical professionals have two classifications for your water breaking before active labor has started.

Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM)

Or prelabor rupture of membranes is when your water breaks before contractions have started while at least 37 weeks pregnant. Active labor is usually quick to follow PROM, but your doctor may want to induce labor to safely deliver your baby before the risk of infection or other complications becomes too great

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Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM)

Is your water breaking before 37 weeks of pregnancy. At this point, your healthcare provider would assess you and your baby to determine what action to take. Keeping the baby growing in the womb as long as possible is always the goal, but a premature delivery may be necessary if the risks of delaying labor outweigh the benefits.

    Risk Factors for PROM and PPROM

    • A history of PROM or PPROM with previous pregnancies

    • Infection in the uterus

    • The length of your cervix is considered short.

    • The placenta has separated from the uterus.

    • Smoking cigarettes or drug use during pregnancy.

    • Too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)

    • You’re carrying more than one baby in this pregnancy.

    Most of the risk factors associated with PROM and PPROM can be identified early on in your pregnancy. This gives your women’s health provider adequate time to plan for this scenario and helps you feel more prepared if the situation does arise.

    Signs Your Water Will Break Soon

    Movies and shows on television would have you believe that your water breaking without warning is the norm. However, PROM only occurs in about 10% of pregnancies, while PPROM is even less frequent. Typically, your body will send you other signals to let you know your baby is coming.

    Losing Your Mucus Plug

    As your cervix dilates to accommodate your baby moving through, the thick mucus that’s been covering the opening of the cervix will be displaced. It may come out all at once or be broken up into smaller amounts. Losing your mucus plug can be a very early sign of labor and that alone doesn’t require rushing to the hospital.

    Vaginal Bleeding

    Also called the bloody show, vaginal discharge mixed with blood is a sign that your body is preparing for labor. The blood vessels in your cervix will break as dilation progresses. It’s normal to see some blood along with your mucus plug.

    Contractions

    The tightening and relaxing of your uterine muscles is usually the most obvious sign of active labor. More often than not, contractions will start before your water breaks and are a leading cause of the release of amniotic fluid.

    Pelvic Pressure

    Feeling pressure in your pelvis is a sign that the contractions are doing their job. The pressure may feel stronger than the pain of contractions as your body pushes your baby’s head further down into your pelvis. This pressure contributes to the rupture of the membranes of the amniotic sac.

    Each of these symptoms is a building block of labor, and as they stack together the likelihood is greater that your water breaks and your baby is born.

    Signs Your Water Is Breaking

    Determining whether your water broke is not as easy as you’d think—especially if you’ve never experienced it before. Maybe this is your first baby or you previously had a scheduled cesarean section where the rupture of the membranes occurred during the surgery.

    Here are a few things to take note of when you think your water is breaking.

    Uncontrollable Leaking

    The release of amniotic fluid is something you have no control over. If you’re experiencing a steady trickle of fluid, try to stop the flow by tightening your pelvic floor muscles like you would during a kegel exercise. If the leaking is caused by your water breaking the liquid will continue to drain out even as you try to prevent it.

    Clear and Odorless Fluid

    A particular confusion is, Did my water break or did I just pee? Urine and amniotic fluid are different in color and odor. You’re already familiar with what your pee looks and smells like. When your water breaks, you’ll see a clear or very pale yellow liquid that has a sweet smell or no smell at all.

    Thin and Watery Consistency

    Wetness in your underwear is not uncommon as you come closer to your due date, but it’s not always caused by your water breaking. Vaginal discharge can be the cause of dampness as a thick and sticky liquid collected in your underwear. The opposite end of the spectrum would be the thin and watery consistency of amniotic fluid soaked into the fabric of your underwear.

    Pressure or Popping Sensation

    The rupturing of the amniotic sac doesn’t cause any pain. You may feel internal pressure or a quick popping sensation before a gush of fluid between your legs. This feeling is a good indication of where the water came from.

    What to Do if Your Water Broke

    This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Active labor is in motion and the birth of your baby is imminent. Take a deep breath and follow these next steps now that your water broke.

    Write down the time

    The time that your water broke is important information for your healthcare provider when deciding how long to let your labor progress naturally before any intervention is necessary.

    Take note of the color

    A yellow-green colored liquid indicates meconium in the amniotic fluid, meaning the baby has had a bowel movement and your doctor may make decisions differently based on this discovery.

    Call your OB7GYN or midwife

    Let them know that you believe your water broke and any other signs of labor you’re feeling. Getting ahold of your birthing team right away is essential to a timely setup for the rest of your labor and delivery—especially if your water breaks in the night.

    Get ready to go to the hospital or birthing center right away

    • Don’t take a bath to clean up and don’t use tampons to control the leaking. Both of these put your uterus at risk for infection now that the once sterile amniotic fluid has made contact with the outside of your body.

    • Use a panty liner or sanitary pad to absorb as much of the wetness as possible. Sitting on a towel during the car ride can also be helpful.

    • Remember your hospital bag on the way out the door. Ideally, you’ll have had this packed well before your water breaks.

      So, do you know if your water broke?

      Even the most helpful information might not detail exactly what you’re experiencing. When in doubt it’s always best to reach out to your doctor, midwife, or nurse at your birthing facility to get the appropriate medical advice for your specific situation.

      If your water didn’t break yet, click here to check out the nursery furniture and baby essentials from Nurture& to prepare for your little one’s arrival.

      L. Elizabeth Forry

      Medically reviewed: Gabriela Alvarado

      Medical surgeon with certifications from Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University. Committed to medical excellence, she has conducted several academic research projects that have contributed to the advancement of the field.

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