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Giving birth - waters breaking

5-minute read

Your labour can begin in a number of different ways. Your labour may begin with your waters breaking, but for some women your waters will break later, as labour progresses. Read on to learn more about what to do when your waters break.

What does 'waters breaking' mean?

'Waters breaking' refers to when the amniotic sac that holds your baby breaks and amniotic fluid leaks out of your vagina. The liquid that comes out is the fluid that has been surrounding and protecting your baby during your pregnancy. This is a normal and healthy part of the later stages of pregnancy, and means that it’s almost time for your baby to be born.

Another term for waters breaking is ‘rupturing of membranes’. This is the term your doctor or midwife may use when referring to your waters breaking.

What can it feel like and what will it look like when my waters break?

When your waters break the fluid will either come out as a gush, or as a slow trickle. If it is a slow trickle, it may be difficult to distinguish from urine, so it may feel like you have wet yourself. One difference to look for is that the fluid will not smell like urine. You are unlikely to feel any pain when your waters break, and you may not feel anything at all.

The fluid that comes from your waters breaking is usually clear but can be yellow or straw coloured. If the fluid is green this may mean that there is a problem, and you should urgently speak with your doctor, midwife or birthing centre.

When will my waters break?

Every pregnancy is different, and it’s difficult to predict when your waters will break. For most women, waters will break during the first stage of labour. For about 1 in every 12 pregnancies, the waters will break before labour has begun.

What if I’m out in public when my waters break?

Despite what you may see in movies, it’s rare for waters to break with a dramatic gush in a public place. Because babies’ heads are often in the downward (vertex) position during the last weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s head tends to slow down the flow of fluid to a trickle, especially while you are walking around. You might choose to wear a maternity pad when you go out during your last weeks of pregnancy, just in case your waters break.

What happens if my waters break early in pregnancy?

Premature rupture of membranes is when your waters break before the 37th week of pregnancy. If your waters break prematurely there is a higher chance that your baby will be born early. Put on a pad and call your midwife or doctor to let them know that you are on your way to hospital.

When you get to hospital a midwife will ask you about your medical history, examine you and monitor your baby. They will take blood tests, a urine test, a vaginal swab and perform an ultrasound of your baby. You will also be given antibiotics and sometimes other medicines as well. You will most likely be asked to stay in hospital so you can continue treatment, and so your health team can monitor you and your baby.

How soon after my waters break will I give birth?

Every woman’s labour progresses differently, however most women go into labour on their own after their waters break. Around 7 in every 10 women give birth within 24 hours of their waters breaking and almost all women (9 in every 10) give birth within 48 hours of their waters breaking.

If your waters break when you are more than 37 weeks pregnant and your labour doesn’t start within 24 hours, your health team may decide to induce labour. This means that you will have medicines to start your labour, to prevent infections or other complications for you and your baby.

How will the midwives or doctors know that my waters have broken?

Sometimes it is obvious that your waters have broken because you will have noticed the flow of liquid from your vagina. However, sometimes it is not clear whether or not your waters have broken. If your doctor or midwife suspects that your waters have broken, they will examine your vagina using a speculum, or if they are still not sure, they can check for amniotic fluid proteins in the vaginal fluid. If this test is positive, it means that the fluid in the vagina has come from the amniotic sac, and your waters have broken.

Are there any warning signs I should look out for that something is wrong?

The fluid that you see when your waters break should be clear or straw coloured. If the fluid is a green or brown colour this may mean that your baby is distressed. When a baby is distressed sometimes it will open its bowels (meconium) into the amniotic fluid making the amniotic fluid a greeny-brown colour. If this happens your baby will need to be monitored more closely — call your doctor, midwife or birthing unit for urgent advice.

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Last reviewed: May 2022


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