What Does It Mean When “Your Water Breaks”?

In the movies, it happens at the most inopportune times and without any notice, and then labor immediately begins in a dramatic fashion. However, in real life, when a woman’s water breaks during pregnancy, there is often a less intense release of fluids and further signs of labor may or may not be present. The water is the amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby during pregnancy in the amniotic sac. While there are no definitive reasons why this membrane sac knows when (or how) to rupture, it often signals that labor is going to follow soon.

What Happens When Your Water Breaks?

When the amniotic sac membranes rupture, this allows amniotic fluid to leak. Some women experience a slight feeling of wetness in their vaginal area. Others feel a trickle of water leaking, which may begin, stop, and then begin again. Then there is another group of women who experience the stereotypical gushing of amniotic fluids as their waters break. Do not worry, though, about your baby running out of amniotic fluid if you experience a lot of leaking of fluid because your body will consistently produce more for your baby throughout the entire labor and delivery.

Even though the water breaking can be one of the first signs that labor is very near, for many women the amniotic sac does not rupture before contractions begin. This is when you might here about obstetricians inducing labor and “breaking the water” as they use a long, thin instrument to gently rupture the sac. This often encourages labor to either begin or to progress with more intensity. A very small percentage of babies are born with their amniotic sacs still intact.

What is PROM?

PROM, also known as the premature rupture of membranes, occurs when you water breaks but you do not experience signs of labor within about 24 hours or less. This can be a cause for concern because the longer it is between the time of your water breaking and the start of labor, the greater risks you and your baby are at for developing infections. Those ruptured membranes are the perfect conditions for bacteria to settle in and cause severe consequences.

What Should I Do After My Water Breaks?

You and your obstetrician or medical provider should develop a plan for this situation, but most likely you will be instructed to seek care once your water breaks, or at least notify your provider if your water breaks and there are no contractions. Take care to keep your vaginal area as clean as possible, wiping front to back after using the bathroom, avoiding soaking in water (showers might be acceptable), and refraining from sexual intercourse, douching, or any other activity which introduces an object into the vaginal area. Also pay attention to the following possible scenarios.

  • Amniotic fluid that has a brown or green hue, which might indicate your baby has already had her first bowel movement. This is a concern because your baby might aspirate it, especially right at delivery, and develop a serious lung infection.
  • The sensation that something is in your vagina, or that you actually see any parts whatsoever of the umbilical cord. This would indicate a cord prolapse which is a very serious condition that needs medical intervention right away.

If your water breaks and you are 36 weeks along or earlier in your pregnancy, seek medical attention immediately. Premature labor and delivery can put your baby at increased risks for various serious conditions so medical interventions to slow labor might be needed.

Photo © US Army Africa

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