You’ve probably seen the Hollywood version of what happens when your waters break – but in reality, it’s probably very different for most women.
While some women might experience the dramatic, gush of water leaving them standing in a puddle, for most women it will be more of a slow leak and more often than not happens during the night, or as you get up first thing in the morning.
What does is mean by ‘waters breaking’ exactly?
When your waters break, it’s the protective sac of amniotic fluid that has been surrounding your baby in your uterus tearing and leaking. Not only does this fluid cushion and protect your baby, it blocks bacteria from reaching your baby, it regulates their temperature and is also the fluid that baby breathes and ingests through its developing lungs in preparation for breathing oxygen once it is born.
What does it look and feel like?
When your waters break, if it is a gush you can be pretty certain what it is, but if it is a slow leak then it can sometimes be hard to tell if it is urine or amniotic fluid. Your waters will typically be clear and odourless.
If the fluid is brown or green, call your doctor or midwife immediately as this means your baby has likely had its first bowel movement and will need to be monitored to ensure they don’t ingest any of it and to ensure they are not in distress.
When do your waters usually break?
It’s different for every woman, and while some women will have their waters break before any contractions start, it’s more common for contractions to start first – usually providing an indication that it will happen soon (and giving you time to prepare for them to break).
This will typically happen anytime from 37 weeks on, but if it does happen before then be sure to call your doctor or midwife straight away. Your doctor may be able to delay labour depending on how early they have broken, otherwise, it may result in premature labour.
What happens after they break?
After your waters break, contractions will hopefully start within 24 hours (if they haven’t already). Once the waters have broken, so too has the seal protecting the baby from bacteria and infection which is why you should call your hospital or birth centre to let them know, they will want to get labour happening as soon as possible.
The longer you wait after your waters break to go into birth (or be induced) the risk of infection for your baby dramatically increases. Pending no other complications, most doctors will allow you to wait 24 hours but wouldn’t advise waiting too much longer and most won’t let you go past 48 hours.
What should I do once my waters have broken?
- Call your hospital or birth centre, your doctor/midwife will often want to examine you and your baby
- If contractions haven’t yet started (and providing there are no other complications), they will most likely advise you to go home and wait for contractions to begin
- They may advise you to induce labour or give you the option to wait 24 hours
- Do not have sex once the waters have broken
- Monitor your baby’s movements and ensure they remain active
- Monitor your temperature and if you have any signs of infection contact the hospital immediately
What happens if your waters don’t break?
Not all women will have their waters break naturally – which is also referred to as spontaneous rupture of membranes (SROM). If you go into labour without this happening (or you have an induction) you may need to undergo an amniotomy, which is when your doctor or midwife uses a thin plastic hook to make a small opening in the amniotic sac and release the fluid.