For new and expecting moms, the prospect of going into labor is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking. In this post, we’ll explore four clues that might tell you your water is about to break. With just a bit of awareness around potential symptoms, expecting mothers can go into childbirth feeling prepared––rather than anxious––for whatever comes next!
How do I know so much about water breaking?
But first, how do I know all of this? Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have seen thousands of women who’s water has broken and I have talked at length about what they experienced, so I think you could say I’m an expert on this.
I’ll be the first to say that all of this is confusing, which is why I recommend you take a prenatal class from an expert. This one can be done in just a few hours!
This (or any article on The Pregnancy Nurse) should be taken as medical advice, this purely educational. Please talk with your provider about your specific needs and circumstances.
What are the early signs that your water might break?
There is no one definitive answer to this question since everyone’s experience with breaking waters will be different. However, there are some common early signs that your water might break.
However, most often your body doesn’t give you TOO much warning. If it does, these are the things most people mention:
1) Contractions. Sometimes your uterus squeezing that amniotic sac will cause it to rupture.
2) Changes in vaginal discharge. This can be one of the signs of labor. Some people may get a very tiny leak in advance of the entire bag breaking. If your discharge seems more watery it’s something to keep an eye on. I even have a whole post on orange discharge during pregnancy.
3) Your mucus plug has come out. This, again, isn’t a tell tale sign — but it does show that your cervix is softening or that you’re in early labor. Your mucus plug does NOT need to “come out” for your water to break.
4) You are asleep. I don’t have any great research, but most of the women who’s water has broken have had it break in bed. Often they feel a “pop” in bed and then when they get-up they have a gush of fluid come out as they stand. Of course, some also feel it when they’re already at the toilet, and a couple while they were in the shower already (that seems handy, but also very confusing).
Pro tip: have a waterproof mattress pad on your bed and probably keep some towels handy in your car just in case your water does break in those last few weeks. The waterproof mattress pad will come in hand with kids in general as well.
The final sign is bonus — and it’s that your doctor or midwife asks to break your water.
Most people’s water doesn’t break spontaneously at home (only 15% break their water before coming to the hospital). Most breaks at the hospital, and usually your provider does it with an amnihook. So, even though you are paranoid about your water breaking somewhere awkward, that only happens about 15% of the time.
Pro Tip: Sometimes providers aren’t great about giving informed consent about breaking your water. Your provider may just ask for the amnihook during a vaginal check. You can always tell them you don’t want it.
And yes, I even have a scenario about breaking your water in here to talk it through before you’re with your provider.
What should you do if your water breaks?
Initially, you’ll want to remember TACO (because, who doesn’t love tacos):
- T: Time
- A: Appearance — is it clear, or has things in it?
- C: What color is it? Clear, greenish?
- O: Odor — does it smell funny?
Your providers will want to know these things.
I also recommend you make sure that nothing is hanging into your vagina (like an umbilical cord or an arm/hand). That would be very rare, but I like to be better safe than sorry. If you do find those, you want to get your butt up in the air and your face on the ground and call 9-1-1. You want to keep the baby from compressing the cord/arm at this point (so you’re using gravity to keep the baby out of your vagina).
If your water breaks, I would call your doctor (it’s not an emergency, but it’s worth a call to them). Your doctor will most likely tell you to go to the hospital. Often, they recommend for you to shower and get something to eat before going in. Again, it’s not an emergency (unless something is hanging into your vagina), but at some point soon they will want to see you at the hospital.
At the hospital they will do a test called Amnisure. This test makes sure that it is amniotic fluid (because some people confuse pee and amniotic fluid) and then they will consider your options.
Most providers want you to stay in the hospital, but I have heard of some who will let you hang out at home for 12-24 hours until your contractions starts. They just want you to take your temperature every hour to watch for any signs of infection.
This can differ though if you have a positive GBS screen, or other issues though.
Why Does Your Water Break?
No one really knows. It could be from a variety of things:
- Your uterine contractions squeezed it til’ it broke
- The uterine sac is aging and is fragile and just broke
- Baby kicked it and broke it — although this is probably unlikely
It is known as the “rupture of membranes” or ROM. The water breaking signals that it’s time for the baby to be born and for labor to start. Most often during this process, contractions will become stronger and more frequent as your uterus tightens and pushes your baby down into your pelvis.
After your water breaks, they hope that you will go into labor in the next 12-24 hours. Once your water is broken that opens that area as a risk of infection (which is obviously not good). If it hasn’t begun in that timeframe they will encourage you to have an augmentation of induction of labor to reduce your chance of an infection in uterus and amniotic fluid (called Chorioamnionitis).
What does it feel like when my waters break?
Some women describe feeling a “pop” and then a gush of fluid.
Some people aren’t sure. Depending on where on the amniotic sac the water breaks it changes how much fluid comes out.
If the rupture is near the top of your uterus only a little bit will spill out now and then. If it is near the bottom you may get a huge gush.
Either way, the water should keep coming out at intervals. Most often people notice it when they stand up, cough, sneeze or laugh they will have some fluid leak out. One of my favorite ways is to have patients lay on the bed and raise their hips up (like a “bridge” when you work out) — often fluid will come out then.
People wonder what does it feel like when your water breaks? Most people explain it as a gush of fluid, and then the water kept coming out.
There are some things that people confuse with their water breaking:
- Leaking some urine.
- Sperm/fluids coming out after sexual intercourse
The main way to tell the difference between those and actual rupture of the membranes is that the fluid keeps coming out. If the baby kicks your bladder (or you cough) and you leak some urine, it shouldn’t happen otherwise. And sperm will likely only come out for a short period of time.
Often I tell friends to put a sanitary pad on and go about their business for a few minutes and then see if any more comes out.
Note: Do NOT use a tampon, you don’t want to use tampons during pregnancy due to their risk of infection.
If you think you are leaking fluids, never feel weird about calling your healthcare provider or visiting labor and delivery to be sure. I think the best course of action is to call your doctor’s office. Sometimes they can just see you and do the test in the office (which is a LOT quicker than a visit to labor and delivery). They may also tell you to go to the hospital.
Doctors or hospitals may also use Nitrazine paper, or a ferning test to check to see if it is amniotic fluid.
Does it hurt when my waters break?
The actual breaking of water doesn’t hurt. Your amniotic sac does not have pain neurons on it.
However, you may have been contracting prior to your water breaking, and the contractions may feel more painful after the sac is broken.
Think of it as a doll inside a full water balloon and your uterus is squishing it — and how much harder it could squish it if the water was all out. Hence, it hurts more.
Often, in the hospital if we think your provider is going to come break your water, we will ask you if you want your epidural before they come do it as it may get more painful after they break it.
That being said, if you hope to labor without pain medication it may be better to wait for your water to break on it’s own (or at least later in your labor). It seems to be easier to cope with contractions before they break your water.
How are my waters broken artificially?
Doctors use something called an amnihook that they thread through your cervix and pop the bag of water. The tip of it looks like a crochet hook — they snag the bag of waters on the tip and then pull it to break the waters.
The ones in the hospital are sterile, and this isn’t something you’d want to try on your own due to the risk of hurting the baby or infection.
What Does it Mean When Your Water Breaks?
For the most part it is a true sign that baby is coming. It mean that baby needs to be born in the next couple of days to minimize infection chances.
What if your water breaks before your due date?
As I said, it normally shows that baby needs to come out soon. However, if you’re much before 36 weeks they may try to have baby continue growing in the womb. Sometimes the sacs can seal back up, or baby can thrive inside for a while. You definitely want to call your doctor right away if you think your water broke and you’re still early.
Will I have a “dry birth” if my water breaks early?
I am not exactly sure what this meant in the “olden days”. I would guess that these women’s sac had broken days before and they were likely having some sort of infection inside.
But, once your water breaks, water will continue to come out. Your amniotic fluid is mostly baby pee — and we all know that babies pee a lot, and they will continue to do that if they are thriving in the womb.
How much water comes out when your water breaks?
It really depends, the bigger question is if it KEEPS coming out.
Ok, that’s water breaking. I hope you found this helpful. If you have ANY questions you can always call your doctor or go into labor and delivery. BUT knowing the signs of labor and what normally happens in early labor can be a big win.
Come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples — the birth class created to be quick, fun and on-budget for pregnant families!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.