Despite the way that media makes it sound, did you know that only 10% of women will experience their water breaking as the first sign of labor (before contractions?) Your water might break at the start of labor, it might break somewhere in the middle of labor (most commonly), and for some women, it doesn't even break at all until the baby is born!
No matter when it happens, though, your water breaking is definitely a sign of labor. Studies show that between 75%-95% of women who experience spontaneous rupture of the membranes (your water breaking) prior to contractions will be in active labor within 24 hours. If you were already in labor, your water breaking often increases the intensity of your labor. The reason for this may be that when the waters break, it causes increased pressure of the baby on the cervix, causing the release of the hormone oxytocin, which causes contractions.
What Was That?
When your water breaks, it can happen one of two ways:
- A big unforgettable gush. There is no room for doubt!
- A slow trickle that makes you wonder if you just peed or your water just broke. If you aren't sure, lay down with a pad in your underwear for 15-20 minutes. When you get back up you will either experience another gush (yep! your water is likely broken), or you won't experience anything (hmm, that was probably just a random pregnancy joy).
If your water has broken before you are at the hospital, it's time to call your care provider. They will confirm that your water has broken at the hospital using a simple test. There are certain factors that can increase your risk for infection once your water has broken, and they may want to monitor you and make sure that you and your baby are staying healthy, and that labor is starting and progressing in a timely manner.
What Does It Look & Smell Like?
If you think that your water just broke, take a minute and check out the color and smell. Amniotic fluid should smell sort of sweet or musty, like fresh mowed grass, or sometimes people say it reminds them of chlorine. Regardless, it shouldn't smell bad, and you will want to let your provider know if it does, and head in right away to be checked out.
Here is what amniotic fluid might look like too:
- Clear: This is the normal color for amniotic fluid.
- White flecks: This is probably vernix from the baby, which is totally normal. All babies are covered in vernix in utero.
- Blood tinged: This is normal, and is likely from the mother’s cervix changing in labor. Big gushes of blood, however, are a red flag that mean a trip to the hospital if you aren't already there.
- Green or has black or green in it: The baby may have had his first bowel movement in utero, which can be normal, but can also be a sign of distress. It's a good idea to head in to the hospital. The baby may be monitored more closely, and will also be assessed at birth to make sure he or she has not aspirated some of the meconium (the term for baby’s first poop).