As a labor, delivery, and postpartum nurse and childbirth educator, one of the most common questions I get is, “How will I know if my water broke?” Believe it or not, your water breaking probably will be nothing like what is portrayed in movies and TV shows! Research shows that only about 10-15% of mamas will experience their water breaking before labor begins, which means 85-90% of mothers will break their water during labor, delivery, or even preterm.
So what does your water breaking even mean?
Your baby is surrounded and protected by an amniotic fluid-filled membranous sac during pregnancy. This amniotic fluid is made by your baby and helps regulate your baby’s temperature, prevents infection, aids in fetal development, and cushions your growing baby.
You may hear your water breaking, also referred to as “rupture of membranes.” This commonly occurs towards the end of pregnancy. However, it can occur preterm and is called premature rupture of membranes. Of course, if you think your water has broken at any point in your pregnancy, you will want to communicate this with your healthcare provider.
What are the signs of your water breaking?
Everyone will describe their experience with their water breaking a bit differently. Some mamas describe their water breaking as a slow trickle. And yes, confusing your water breaking with peeing your pants happens all the time! As you can imagine, your baby’s head may sit on your bladder and irritate it or cause you to lose a bit of urine, and that’s okay! Other moms say they experienced a popping sensation or a large gush of fluid. Some other moms report that they are unsure whether their water has broken, but they feel an uncontrollable leak or find their underwear damp, and the fluid doesn’t smell like urine.
When your water breaks, it won’t be painful, which can make the sensation hard to identify. However, when in doubt, call your provider, and they can walk you through the next steps!
Take note of these things.
If you think your water broke, take a deep breath! There are a few things you’ll need to take note of about your fluid. Remember this acronym—TACO!
- Time — What time did your water break? Your provider will want to know how long it has been since your water has broken as there are some time-sensitive aspects to labor and birth-related to how long it has been since you’ve been ruptured, such as infection!
- Amount — How much amniotic fluid did you lose? Was it a large gush of fluid or a small trickle? You may feel a small trickle and confuse it with — did I just pee myself? Or you may have a large gush of fluid!
- Color — What is the color of the amniotic fluid? It should be clear or yellow-tinted. If you notice that the fluid is pink or reddish-tinged, this can also be normal. Anything more than a tablespoon of blood, you should notify your provider immediately! However, sometimes your baby may have their first bowel movement (called meconium) while inside the womb. This can cause fluid to be green or brown-tinged. This is no reason to panic and is quite common. However, you would want to call your provider and notify them.
- Odor — Does the fluid have an odor? Amniotic fluid typically doesn’t have a foul smell to it. If anything, it is odorless or a possible earthy-sweet odor. If you have a foul-smelling discharge at any point during your pregnancy, birth, or postpartum, you should notify your provider immediately.
I’m still not sure if it broke. What can I do?
As a labor and delivery nurse, one of my top tips to rule out whether or not your water has broken is to put on clean underwear and a pad, lay down for 20-30 minutes, and then stand back up. If it is amniotic fluid, it will likely pool in the vagina and then saturate the pad when you stand up. If the pad is dry, this may mean you had some urine leakage or loss of mucus. During that 30-minutes rest, you can collect your thoughts. Is everything you need ready for the hospital? Do you need to make any phone calls? Perhaps do some kick counts to assess how the baby is doing!
Can my doctor tell me if my water broke?
As you can imagine, the amniotic sac entirely surrounds the baby. Sometimes there can be an opening in the sac higher up, resulting in more of a trickle. Or there can be a large opening closer towards the opening of the cervix, resulting in a gush of fluid. It’s always hard for us to know where your amniotic sac may have broken. But your healthcare provider can confirm if your water has broken with easy testing at the hospital.
When you notify your doctor, they may ask you to present to your birthplace for testing, depending on your specific circumstances. Testing can be performed in several different ways. Your provider may swab the vagina, insert a speculum, introduce a special paper called litmus paper, or examine the fluid under a microscope. Your provider may want to bring you in sooner rather than later for various reasons. Some reasons include if you are group B strep positive, earlier than 37 weeks, have a high-risk pregnancy, have foul-smelling discharge, brown or green stained fluid, have decreased fetal movement, or have been ruptured for several hours and haven’t experienced contractions.
When will my water stop leaking?
Your water will continuously leak until your baby is born, which I find most patients are surprised by! When you make your way to your birthplace, you may want to wear a pad, sit on a puppy pad or a towel to not get the seats in your car wet. I kept a spare towel in my car in the weeks leading up to my due date just in case my water broke while I was on the go!
Keep in mind your labor may not begin for hours after your water breaks. So don’t panic. Know that time is most often on your side! However, I always recommend having a conversation with your provider towards the end of your pregnancy, so you know how to proceed if your water does indeed break. Also, it’s important to remember that you should put nothing in your vagina once you suspect your water has broken, as this can increase your risk of infection. This means you should keep vaginal exams to a minimum as well. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself!