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Giving birth - waters breaking

7-minute read

Key facts

  • The term ‘waters breaking’ means that the baby’s protective (amniotic) sac breaks, and normally happens during late pregnancy or labour.
  • For most people, the waters break during labour, rather than before labour starts.
  • If your waters break before 37 weeks, contact your midwife or doctor and go to the hospital.
  • Go straight to the hospital if your waters break and the water is green or brown.
  • Most people will give birth within 48 hours of their waters breaking.

What does 'waters breaking' mean?

Waters breaking, or 'rupturing of membranes,' occurs when the amniotic sac holding your baby breaks. This releases the amniotic fluid that has protected your baby during pregnancy, which leaks out of your vagina.

This is a normal and healthy part of late pregnancy or early labour and means your baby is ready to be born.

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

If your waters break, the fluid may gush or trickle slowly. You may feel as if you have wet yourself. It typically doesn’t isn’t painful and you may not feel anything at all.

If your waters break, the amniotic fluid:

  • will not smell like urine
  • may smells sweet
  • is typically clear, but can be yellowish or pinkish

If the fluid is green or brown, your baby may have passed meconium (newborn poo). This can be a sign that your baby is in distress, so you should speak with your doctor, midwife or birthing centre immediately.

When will my waters break?

Every pregnancy is different, and it’s difficult to predict when your waters will break. In most pregnancies, waters will break during the first stage of labour. Sometimes, waters will break before labour starts.

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

If you are out in public remain calm and ask for help if needed. Remember that it is unusual for your waters to break before labour starts (but not necessarily a problem).

If this happens to you, put on a pad and contact your midwife, doctor or birth centre, who will advise you on when to come into the hospital.

What happens if my waters break early in pregnancy?

If the membrane ruptures early (before the 37th week of pregnancy) there is a higher chance of early birth. Put on a pad, call your midwife or doctor and go to hospital.

At the hospital a midwife will ask 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 to check on your and your baby’s wellbeing.

The membranes form a protective barrier around the baby. After these have broken, there is a risk of infection getting into the womb and therefore you may be given antibiotics and other medicines. You might be asked to stay in hospital for continued treatment and to monitor you and your baby.

How soon after my waters break will I give birth?

Every labour progresses differently, although waters breaking usually means your labour will start soon.

Around 7 in every 10 people give birth within 24 hours of their waters breaking, and almost all (9 in 10 people) within 48 hours.

If your waters break after 37 weeks pregnant and labour doesn’t start within 24 hours, your health team may discuss inducing labour due to the risk of infection.

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

If your doctor or midwife suspects that your waters have broken, they will examine your vagina using a speculum. If they are still not sure, they can check for amniotic fluid proteins in the vaginal fluid, which will confirm that your waters have broken.

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

If your water breaks and the fluid is green or brown, call your doctor, midwife or birthing unit for urgent advice.

When your waters break, if the fluid is green or brown, this may mean that your baby is distressed. When a baby is distressed, it will sometimes pass a bowel movement (meconium or newborn poo) into the amniotic fluid making the amniotic fluid a green-brown colour.

When should I call my midwife or doctor?

Go to hospital or call your midwife, doctor or hospital urgently if your waters break and:

  • your water smells bad
  • you are bleeding from your vagina
  • you have a temperature of 37.4°C or above
  • you feel unwell or have flu like symptoms
  • you notice a change in your baby’s movements
  • you are having regular painful contractions or abdominal pain that doesn’t go away
  • you feel like you need pain relief

Resources and support

  • Speak to your doctor or midwife during a prenatal visit about what you should do if your waters break. If your waters break, call your midwife, doctor or birth unit for advice.
  • The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides an easy-to-read pamphlet on labour and birth.
  • Health NSW has created a labour and birth booklet outlining the various stages, what to expect at each stage of the birthing process and as well as how you can be supported.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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