If you've ever watched a movie where a woman goes in labor, you've probably noticed that the major turning point in her water breaking. It's always presented in some dramatic fashion - when she's walking through a grocery store, or about to put on a huge presentation in front of her bosses. And it's always this grand, messy experience! Water gushing everywhere!
But in reality, is that how it actually happens? Will you be walking down a busy street and be stopped in your tracks by a gush of water from your uterus? Well ... maybe, but maybe not. Every woman experiences this sign of impending labor differently.
What Happens When Your Water Breaks
Your water breaking is one of the most unmistakable signs of labor you'll experience as your body begins to prepare to deliver your baby. And it really is a break of sorts! Your water breaking is actually the amniotic sac rupturing and releasing the fluid that has sustained and protected your baby your entire pregnancy. This event triggers a chemical chain reaction that kicks labor into gear. For some women, the ruptured sac happens first, then labor kicks in. For others, they're already in active labor when the membranes finally rupture.
What It Feels Like When Your Water Breaks
This is a tricky question! As with nearly every aspect of pregnancy, labor, and delivery, your experience will vary. Some women really do experience the strong gush of fluid that you see in the movies. But statistically, only about 10-15% of women actually experience their membranes rupturing before labor, and a very small percentage of those women will have the gush. Most women will feel a trickle or slow leak of fluid, often mistaken for urine.
But amniotic fluid will be clear and odorless, so you should quickly be able to determine that it isn't pee. Other women don't notice any fluid at all, and aren't aware they're in labor until contractions start.
What Happens After Your Water Breaks
Don't panic! Your water breaking doesn't mean your baby is coming RIGHT NOW. In fact, most women don't start feeling contractions until about 12 hours AFTER their water breaks. You have some time to get your life together before the real fun starts. You won't run out of amniotic fluid in that time, don't worry - your body produces it right up until the baby is born. But to prevent infection, most doctors will induce labor 24 hours after your water breaks, if your body hasn't gone into labor on its own.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
In the final weeks of your pregnancy, your doctor will have likely gone over some procedures for if and/or when your water breaks. If you're full term with a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, you'll likely be advised to wait and start timing contractions (if they start). You'll probably be slowly leaking fluid during this time, so use maxi pads or panty liners to keep your undies dry. To prevent infection, don't take a bath or go swimming, and refrain from sex once your water has broken.
If you tested positive for Group B strep, your doctor will probably have you go to the hospital immediately after your membranes rupture to start IV antibiotics. Call your doc right away if your fluid is green or brown (a sign your baby passed meconium in the uterus), if you're less than 37 weeks pregnant, or you feel the need to bear down or notice a loop of umbilical cord hanging out of your vagina.