What to Expect When your Waters Break

Are you getting closer to your due date, and wondering what to expect when your waters break? Are you worried that it will happen at an inconvenient time and place? Everyone’s experience of their waters breaking is different, so to help you get prepared for it, here are a few facts.

What does ‘waters breaking’ mean?

Your baby develops inside a bag of fluid called an amniotic sac. Your ‘waters breaking’ is the rupturing of the sac when your baby is ready to be born.

When will my waters break?

Your waters can break at anytime during labour, sometimes before, and occasionally they don’t break at all (this is when the baby is born inside the amniotic sac, and referred to as ‘en caul’). In some cases, a midwife will break your waters to speed up or induce labour. Labour often starts with contractions, but for about one in ten women their waters break before labour when they’re full-term. For about three in 100 women, their waters break even earlier (as in before 37 weeks).

How do I know when my waters break?

If you experience any of the following, your waters may have broken:

  • A slow trickle or sudden gush of fluid. How much fluid you lose varies.
  • A painless popping sensation followed by fluid.
  • Uncontrollable leaking of fluid from your vagina.
  • Amniotic fluid is straw-like in colour, and may be blood stained to start with.

Is it my waters breaking or something else?

  1. Is it urine? Amniotic fluid is a pale straw colour, like urine. You’ll know you’re not leaking urine if it smells sweet rather than like ammonia.
  2. Is it discharge? Vaginal discharge is a thin milky-white mucus.
  3. Is it ‘bloody show’? This is a sign that labour is imminent, and it’s a mucusy discharge streaked with pink or brown blood.
  4. Is it your mucus plug? This is also a sign that labour is imminent, and will look like a glob of mucus.

What should I do when my waters break?

If your waters break before labour, it’s a sign that it’s on the way. Amniotic fluid protects your baby from germs and infections, so you need to contact your midwife or hospital for advice.

You will probably start to feel contractions within 12-24 hours, but if you don’t, your midwife or doctor may want to induce labour to protect your baby from infections. You will be given instructions whether to wait for contractions or to go into hospital.

Use panty liners or pads to keep your underwear dry and vaginal area clean. Not that you’ll be feeling like it, but sex should be avoided to reduce the risk of infection.

If you’re instructed to go into hospital, a midwife or doctor may assess you and your baby to decide what to do next. Your baby’s heart rate and movements will be monitored, your temperature will be checked, and you may be offered an internal examination to confirm whether your waters have broken.

According to the Royal Women’s Hospital you should go to hospital if:

  • Your baby stops moving or you are concerned that your baby is moving much less than normal

You have:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • fever, chills or a temperature of more than 37.8ºC
  • severe nausea and repeated vomiting
  • persistent headaches that won’t go away
  • blurred vision, or spots before your eyes
  • sharp pains in the abdomen (with or without bleeding)
  • pain or burning when you pass urine
  • irregular contractions at any time
  • sudden swelling of your face, hands, ankles or fingers
  • persistent itchy skin
  • Your waters break or if you have a constant clear watery vaginal discharge
  • You’ve had any trauma such as an assault, a car accident or a serious fall
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