How Do You Know if Your Water Broke? - Baby Chick
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How Do You Know if Your Water Broke?

Learn the signs of your water breaking during pregnancy, what it means, why it occurs, and possible risks of it happening preterm.

Published July 16, 2021

by Ashley Derderian Sousa

Labor & Delivery Nurse, BSN, RN, IBCLC

Medically reviewed by Stephanie Sublett

Board-Certified OB/GYN, FACOG, IBCLC

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 will probably be nothing like what movies and TV shows portray! Research shows that only about 10-15% of mamas experience their water breaking before labor begins. This means 85-90% of mothers will break their water during labor, delivery, or even preterm.1

What Does Your Water Breaking Even Mean?

During pregnancy, an amniotic fluid-filled membranous sac surrounds and protects your baby. This amniotic fluid helps regulate your baby’s temperature, prevents infection, aids in fetal development, and cushions your growing baby.2,3

You may hear your water breaking called “rupture of membranes.” This commonly occurs toward 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.4

What Are the Signs of Your Water Breaking?

Everyone describes their experience with their water breaking a bit differently. Some mamas describe it 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.5

Other moms say there was a popping sensation or a large gush of fluid. And some 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.5

When your water breaks, it won’t be painful, making the sensation hard to identify. However, when in doubt, call your provider, and they can walk you through the next steps.

Take Note of Some Things

If you think your water broke, take a deep breath. There are some things you’ll need to take note of about your fluid. Remember this acronym — TACO:5

  • Time — What time did your water break? Your provider will want to know how long it’s 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 pee. 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 it’s pink or reddish-tinged, this can also be normal. You should notify your provider immediately of anything more than a tablespoon of blood. However, sometimes your baby has their first bowel movement (called meconium) inside the womb. This can cause fluid to be green or tinged brown. This is quite common and no reason to panic. However, you want to call your provider and notify them.
  • Odor — Does the fluid have an odor? The amniotic fluid typically doesn’t have a foul smell to it. If anything, it is odorless or may have an earthy-sweet odor. If you have foul-smelling discharge at any point during your pregnancy, birth, or postpartum, notify your provider immediately.

What To Do if You’re Still Not Sure Your Water Broke

As a labor and delivery nurse, one of my top tips to rule out whether 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 saturate the pad when you stand up. If the pad is dry, you may have some urine leakage or loss of mucus. During that 30-minute 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.5

Can My Doctor Tell Me if My Water Broke?

As you can imagine, the amniotic sac surrounds the baby.2 Sometimes, an opening in the sac can be higher up, resulting in more of a trickle. Or there can be a large opening closer toward the opening of the cervix, resulting in a gush of fluid.4,5,6 It’s always hard for providers to know where your amniotic sac may have broken. However, 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 go to your birthing place for testing, depending on your circumstances. This can be performed in several ways. Your provider may swab your vagina, insert a speculum, introduce a special paper called litmus paper, or examine the fluid under a microscope. They may want to bring you in sooner rather than later for various reasons.5 Some reasons include the following:5,6

  • Group B strep-positive
  • Earlier than 37 weeks
  • High-risk pregnancy
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Brown or green stained fluid
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Ruptured for several hours but 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.5 When you make your way to your birthing place, you may want to wear a pad or sit on a puppy pad or towel to avoid getting 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.

Remember, your labor may not begin for hours after your water breaks, so don’t panic.5 Time is most often on your side! However, I always recommend talking with your provider toward the end of your pregnancy so you know how to proceed if your water does break. Also, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t put anything in your vagina once you suspect your water has broken, as this can increase your risk of infection.7 This means you should keep vaginal exams to a minimum as well. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself!

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Ashley Derderian Sousa Labor & Delivery Nurse, BSN, RN, IBCLC
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Ashley Derderian Sousa, RN, IBCLC, is a registered nurse and a board-certified lactation consultant with 12 years of experience, spending the past 8 of those years providing care as a… Read more

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