Water Breaks in Pregnancy: Reasons & FAQ’s

Water Breaking during Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Every woman has a unique experience of delivering her baby. Don’t lose your sleep over the stories you may have heard about water breaking! Your curiosity is justified, but your worry is not necessary. This article will clear any doubts that you have about water breaking during pregnancy, so relax, and read on to stay informed!

What Is Water Breaking?

Your baby is cushioned and protected in your womb is a fluid-filled amniotic sac. When this amniotic sac tears, amniotic fluid will leak through your cervix and vagina. This is called water breaking, which usually happens during late pregnancy. Water breaking is a sign that you are in early labour, or may be in labour soon.

When Does a Pregnant Woman’s Water Break?

Water breaking occurs during the first or the second stage of labour in most women. It happens due to the contractions that take place during this period. In one in ten women, water breaks before any signs of labour, sometimes even before contractions. In very rare cases, water may break in the 37th week of pregnancy.

If you are long overdue, then your doctor will offer to break your water to induce labour. Soon after your water breaks, you may observe that your contractions become stronger and more intense by the minute. Hence, it is important that as soon as your water breaks, you must get in touch with the doctor immediately.

What Are the Causes of Water Breaking During Pregnancy?

A pregnant woman’s water breaks when the baby is ready to come out. It is a sign that she is soon to go into labour. In very rare cases, a premature rupture of membranes (PROM) is the cause for water breaking. This usually happens during the 37th week of pregnancy. The causes for it could be any or all of the following:

  • A history of premature water breaking in previous pregnancy
  • Smoking or using drugs during pregnancy
  • Short cervical length
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy
  • Being underweight
  • Inflammation of foetal membranes
  • Vaginal bleeding during second or third trimester

What Happens When Your Water Breaks and What Does It Feel Like?

The water breaking experience differs from woman to woman. While some feel a little fluid trickling down their legs, others may experience a gush of odourless and colourless amniotic fluid flowing out of their system. It all depends on where the bag has torn, and whether the baby has engaged and is ready for labour. There is close to 600 ml of water or amniotic fluid inside you by the end of the pregnancy, and your body continues to make water even during labour. So, you may continue to leak well after your water has broken.

What Happens When Your Water Breaks and What Does It Feel Like?

Many moms worry that their water may break while they are out shopping, at a restaurant, or anywhere outside their homes. Don’t worry too much about this possibility, and carry a maternity pad from the 37th week of your pregnancy. Avoid using a tampon or a sanitary napkin.

What Is Fore Water and Hind Water?

As your baby starts moving downwards to prepare for its birth, your baby’s head descends closer to your cervical opening. Your amniotic fluid hence gets divided roughly into the water present in front of your baby’s head and that present towards your baby’s feet, known as fore water and hind water respectively.

There is no difference between fore and hind water, and it doesn’t matter which of the water breaks first.

How to Determine It’s Water Breaking and Not Pee or Discharge

Differentiating between pee and amniotic fluid can be a little tricky. Amniotic fluid is clear, odourless fluid which is of a pale straw colour, and may be a little bloodstained in the beginning. Smell it, and you will know whether it is urine or amniotic fluid.

Vaginal discharge, on the other hand, is thin, white mucus, which is quite similar to what you see before a menstrual period. It’s heavier than amniotic fluid, and hence can easily be differentiated from it.

Can Water Breaking Happen Before Labour?

Yes, amniotic rupture can happen prematurely before labour, but only in very rare cases. In such a case, it can happen anytime during or after the 37th week of pregnancy. But, in most cases, it will not be a surprise, and you may already be in the hospital ready to deliver your baby.

When Does Labour Start After Water Breaks?

One obvious question that may lurk in the minds of expecting moms is, how long after the water breaks does labour start? In most cases, labour is followed by the breaking of the amniotic sac. In very rare cases is there a delay, and mostly if you experience a premature rupture of membrane. In these cases, the doctor may induce labour, because the longer it takes for labour to start after water break, the higher are the chances of you and your baby contracting an infection.

What Happens if You Don’t Have Contractions After Water Breaking?

As mentioned before, contractions should follow soon after the water breaks. If you are not already in labour, then you may feel the first contraction 12 hours after the amniotic fluid starts trickling down your legs; in some cases, the contractions may start after 24 hours. In the meantime, be assured that you will not run out of amniotic fluid, as your body continues to produce amniotic fluid till you deliver the baby.

An instance of the water breaking with no contractions is very rare. However, if you take longer than 24 hours to go into labour, the doctor may decide to induce labour to save you and your baby from any probable infection due to the ruptured amniotic sac.

What Happens if Your Water Breaks Early?

If your water breaks before the 37th week of pregnancy, then it is called preterm or premature rupture of membranes (PROM). This may lead to a few complications like maternal and foetal infection, placenta abruption (which takes place when the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus way before delivery), and infection or problems with the umbilical cord. There is also an elevated risk of complications due to premature birth.

If you are 34 weeks pregnant at the time of PROM, the doctor may suggest an early delivery. If you are between 24 to 34 weeks pregnant, then the doctor will try to delay the delivery by putting you on antibiotics. That way, the baby will get some more time to develop inside you. You will also be given an injection of potent steroids (corticosteroids) to speed up the development of your baby’s lungs.

Whatever the scenario may be, speak to your doctor and ask all your questions about PROM, and how it will affect you and the baby.

What Can You Do if Your Water Breaks During Pregnancy?

If you suspect that your waters have broken, you need to contact your doctor. You may be required to go to the hospital for an examination. The doctor may also need to take a call on how your labour should progress.

What Can You Do if Your Water Breaks During Pregnancy?

What Happens if Your Water Doesn’t Break on Its Own?

If you go into labour, your cervix is thinned and dilated, and the baby’s head is already pushing through the pelvis, then your doctor may use amniotomy to start or increase labour contractions. In this technique, a thin plastic hook will be used to make an opening in the amniotic sac, which will cause the amniotic fluid to flow out.

What if Your Water Breaks and You Don’t Want Induction?

If you choose not to have induction after your water breaks, then you will have to be kept under strict observation.

  • Firstly, your doctor or midwife will have to check your baby’s heart rate and movement every 24 hours till you actually go into labour.
  • The doctor will keep a close watch on your temperature.
  • The doctor will look for any change in the smell or colour of the amniotic fluid.

In this scenario, your doctor or midwife will advise you to have the delivery in the hospital, as it may turn out to be risky.

In case you get an infection during that phase, antibiotics will be fed into your veins through a fine tube by your doctor, and you will be advised to get labour induced in order to safeguard you and your baby from any other infection.

What Are the Risks of Not Being Induced After 48 Hours?

If you refuse to induce labour even after 48 hours of your water breaking, then you are risking the health of both you and your child. The wider the time lapse between your water breaking and the baby’s birth, the higher the chances of you and your baby getting an infection. If you avoid inducing labour even after 48 hours, then your baby may have to stay in special care once born, as a precautionary measure. Hence, stay calm, weigh the pros and cons, seek your doctor’s advice, and choose what’s right for the baby and for you.

When to Seek a Doctor’s Help

It is advisable to inform your doctor soon after you observe water breaking signs and symptoms, just to be on the safe side. Other circumstances when you must call your doctor without any delay are:

  • If you observe that the fluid is green and brown, which means that your baby had a bowel movement in the uterus.
  • You are in the 37th week of or pregnancy or even less, and you feel the slow leak between your legs.
  • If you feel like something is sticking out of your vagina, like a loop or umbilical cord. This only happens in cases of PROM (the baby is breech or preterm), and the umbilical cord gets swept into the cervix or even the vagina.

As soon as you call the doctor, a water break test will be conducted. If it turns out to be a false alarm, you will be sent back home.

When you are pregnant, it’s always important to stay calm and focused. Panic can have undesirable and unwanted side effects. Thus, always reach out to your doctor or midwife for help, and calmly think about the health of you and your child while making any decision.

Also Read: Overdue Pregnancy: Causes, Risks & Tips to Survive

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