waters breaking in pregnancy

When a mother’s waters break in a movie, it’s usually a dramatic scene as she rushes to hospital before the baby pops out. In real life, it may not be so dramatic. You might only experience a slow trickle of water, or your baby may take their time coming into the world.

Read this guide to find out the signs that your waters are breaking, how long you to deliver after your waters break, and other helpful tips. Remember, your midwife and maternity unit are at hand to support you through this important time.

What Happens When Your Waters Break?

During pregnancy, your baby is surrounded by a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac, which cushions and protects your baby from infection. Amniotic fluid also helps your baby’s lungs, digestive system, muscles and bones to develop.

At the start of labour, later during labour or, in some cases, before labour starts, the membranes of the sac break and the amniotic fluid drains out through your vagina. This is referred to as your ‘waters breaking’. It is often one of the early signs of labour.

Signs Your Waters are Breaking

For most women, the waters will break during labour, but it is also common before labour. The signs your waters are going to break includes feeling a slow leak or a sudden gush of water. The fluid that is released when your waters are breaking is usually clear or pink in colour, but sometimes it can become yellow or green due to your baby passing their first poo (meconium) inside the sac.

Once your waters have broken, you’ll continue to leak some fluid until your baby is born, so it’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes with you and wear a thick sanitary pad on your journey to the hospital or birthing centre, to prevent the amniotic fluid leaking onto your clothing or the car seat.

Once you suspect your waters have broken, you should contact your maternity unit or midwife, especially if your waters break before contractions starts, or if you notice the waters are smelly or you’re losing blood. Your midwife may also check your sanitary pad to check the colour of the waters.

How Long After Your Waters Break Do You Deliver?

If you suspect your waters have broken, make a note of the time. You may also want to time your contractions if you’ve started having them.

You may already be in labour, but if not, labour typically starts within 24 hours of your water breaking. If you’re in labour, you can check out some comfort measures to make your experience more relaxing.

You’re probably wondering how long you can stay pregnant after your waters break. It’s hard to say, because the length of labour and childbirth varies a lot. After the water breaks, 95 out of 100 mums-to-be usually give birth within 5 days. If your waters break but you have no contractions yet, experts recommend either of the following:

  • Waiting 36 to 72 hours for labour to start or being induced if it does not

  • Waiting for labour to begin naturally – whenever that may be.

Contact your midwife or maternity unit as soon as your waters break to get advice and discuss if you need to be induced. The risk of developing an infection increases the longer the time between your waters breaking and giving birth.

Remember: The long months of waiting are nearly over, and you’ll meet your baby soon enough!

When to Call Your Midwife or Doctor?

If your pregnancy is full-term and your waters break, stay calm and contact your doctor or midwife to get advice on when to head into the hospital or maternity unit. You should also contact your doctor or midwife if:

  • Your waters break preterm, which is any time before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

  • Your baby is moving less than usual

  • You have vaginal bleeding.

In case you are advised to go to the hospital, check that your hospital bag is packed and ready to go and you have your birth plan with you.

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Dos and Don’ts Once Your Waters Break

Once your waters have broken your baby is no longer as protected from infection as they were inside the fluid-filled sac. To be on the safe side, your midwife or doctor may advise you to

  • check your temperature every four hours, and contact your maternity unit if it rises above 37.5 degrees Celsius

  • avoid sexual intercourse

  • have a shower or a bath if you wish

  • relax and find comfortable positions for yourself.

What If Your Waters Don’t Break?

If your waters don’t break and your midwife or doctor needs to intervene to help induce labour, they may rupture the membrane during a vaginal exam. This artificial rupture of the membrane is referred to as ‘ARM’, and often makes your contractions stronger. If your contractions cause you pain, talk to your midwife about pain relief options.

What if Your Waters Break Preterm?

If your waters break before you’ve reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, this is called a preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM.

Contact your midwife right away if your water breaks preterm, as waters breaking early can increase the risk of infection. Your midwife may offer you a test for infection and antibiotics.

In some cases you may be offered steroid injections. You won’t necessarily go into labour immediately after PPROM; however, you might need to stay in hospital for a few days. If not, you will stay at home for a few days and keep in touch with your midwife if you have any concerns or if changes occur, such as a rise in your temperature, bleeding, pain, or contractions.

Your midwife or maternity unit will offer you advice and support during this time.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

  • Usually, your waters will break during labour. You may feel a slow leak or a sudden gush of water. The fluid that is released when your waters break is usually clear or pink in colour, but sometimes it can become yellow or green due to your baby passing their first poo (meconium) inside the sac. You will continue to leak this liquid until your baby is born.

  • Once your waters break, labour usually starts within 24 hours. The length of labour varies, and your doctor may recommend an inducement after 36 to 72 hours.

  • When you’re in labour or labour is near, the amniotic sac surrounding your baby breaks and the amniotic fluid drains out through your vagina.

  • Your waters will usually be clear or pinkish, and unscented. Whereas urine will have a yellowish colour and probably a scent. Wearing a large sanitary towel after you suspect your waters have broken can help your midwife identify the fluid.

The Bottom Line

That exciting time is near as labour begins and you feel that slow leak or sudden gush of liquid when your waters break. Whether the baby arrives within 24 hours of your waters breaking, or you must wait a little longer for your little one, your midwife or maternity unit are always at hand to guide you through the process or offer you advice and support if you have any concerns.

No matter how your waters break, it's an important signal that your baby is getting ready to meet you – you’re so close now! Get ready for your new arrival with this ultimate checklist of newborn baby essentials.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.