Water breaking is when the amniotic fluid that has been protecting your baby tears, causing the fluid to leak out of the vagina. It indicates that labor has started or will begin soon. How does it feel when your water breaks? What does the fluid look like? Dr. Phillips, a board certified OB-GYN, helps answer some common water breaking questions to help you prepare for this exciting pregnancy milestone.
Water breaking indications
Your water breaking indicates that your body is preparing for labor and delivery. Most women will experience a sudden release of a large amount of clear or slightly yellow fluid from their vagina.
What water breaking feels like
While water breaking can feel different for every woman, Dr. Phillips says that many moms feel the following:
- A popping sensation in their lower abdomen or pelvis
- Contractions or cramping
- While most women feel a sudden surge of fluid, some women may experience a slow, constant trickle of fluid
What water breaking looks like
When your water breaks, the fluid should be clear or slightly yellow. If the fluid has a green or brown tint or a foul odor, it may indicate a potential complication. Either way, Dr. Phillips stresses, “You should reach out to your doctor or midwife to let them know that your water has broken. They will give you further instructions on what to do next.”
Water breaking vs. discharge
Many moms wonder how water breaking differs from the discharge that is typical during pregnancy. Discharge is usually thick, white, or clear and has no strong odor. It’s a way for your body to keep the vagina clean and healthy.
The amniotic fluid that comes out when your water breaks has a water-like consistency. It’s clear or slightly yellowish and has a mild, sweet smell.
How to prepare for birth when your water breaks
Once your water breaks, your baby’s birth is on the horizon. Your little one will soon be here—but not necessarily right away! While being both excited and a bit nervous is to be expected, Dr. Phillips advises staying calm and doing the following:
- Tell your doctor or midwife that your water broke and follow their guidelines on next steps.
- If you haven’t already, pack your hospital bag so that you’re ready to head to the birthing center or hospital.
- Start timing your contractions, which may begin shortly after your water breaks. This will help you determine when to go to the birthing center or hospital.
Timing and causes of your water breaking
Water breaking typically happens after your 37th week. It can occur during or before labor. If your water does not break despite being in labor for a while, your doctor may recommend breaking it for you to help you progress.
How long does water breaking last?
Once your water breaks, the amniotic fluid will continue to leak out of your vagina until your baby is born. However, the length of time that your water will continue to break can vary.
In some cases, the rupture of the amniotic sac may be a slow leak, where the fluid leaks out gradually over a period of hours or days. This is known as a "high leak," and it may not be as obvious as a sudden gush of fluid. In this case, the leaking may continue until the baby is delivered.
In other cases, the water may break suddenly and completely, causing a large gush of fluid. Dr. Phillips says, “This is known as a ‘low leak,’ and the fluid may continue to leak out until the baby is born, although the leaking may slow down or stop on its own.”
If your water breaks and you're not yet in active labor, your healthcare provider may recommend waiting up to 24 hours to see if labor begins on its own. If labor doesn't start, they may recommend inducing labor to reduce the risk of infection.
How to speed up your water breaking
“It's not safe or advisable to try to speed up your water breaking,” cautions Dr. Phillips. The amniotic sac rupture is a natural and unpredictable part of the labor process, and it can't be controlled or accelerated.
In fact, in most cases, Dr. Phillips says, “It's recommended to avoid trying to induce labor on your own, as this can increase the risk of complications for you and your baby.” Dr. Phillips adds, “Inducing labor should only be done under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare provider, who can monitor your progress and ensure the process is safe and effective.”
What to know about contractions
Contractions are the tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscles, which helps push the baby down toward the cervix and eventually through the birth canal. As the contractions become stronger and more frequent, they can cause the cervix to dilate and efface (thin out), which can help to prepare your body for delivery.
How long after water breaking do contractions start?
When the amniotic sac ruptures, it releases hormones that can help to stimulate contractions. That’s why it’s common for contractions to start within a few hours after the water breaks. But the timing can vary from woman to woman, and in some cases, it may take several hours or even days for your labor to begin.
Sometimes the contractions may not start on their own. In that situation, your healthcare provider may need to induce labor to help you progress.
Can you have contractions without your water breaking?
Yes, it is possible to have contractions without your water breaking. Dr. Phillips says, “In fact, contractions are often the first indication of labor, even before the amniotic sac ruptures.”
In some cases, your water may break during labor, either spontaneously or with the help of your healthcare provider. However, the amniotic sac may remain intact until just before or even during delivery.
Final tips for how to prepare for birth
You’re in the pregnancy home stretch. Here are some last-minute tips to help you get through the finish line as you prepare to finally meet your bundle of joy.
Create a birth plan. This document shares your labor and delivery preferences with your doctors, family, and friends. Include a list of the people you will call when your water breaks and once your baby is born.
Map your birthing location. Figure out how long it will take to get to your birthing location and map out the best route.
Pack your hospital bag. Get ready for your hospital stay by packing essentials for you, your partner, and the baby. Among the items to add to your hospital bag checklist are comfortable clothes, pillows, glasses/contacts, and pillows—and don’t forget the car seat and the going-home outfit for your little one.
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