Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Waters breaking early

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Preterm prelabour rupture of membranes (PPROM) is when your waters break before 37 weeks of pregnancy and before labour starts.
  • If you feel fluid coming from your vagina, call your doctor or midwife immediately.
  • PPROM puts you at risk of infection, cord prolapse and of having a premature baby.
  • If you have PPROM, you will need to have antibiotics and monitoring in a hospital.
  • You might be able to wait to go into labour naturally but if you or your baby are unwell, you may need to be induced earlier than expected.

What is preterm prelabour rupture of membranes (PPROM)?

Your baby is inside the amniotic sac, which is a thin-walled bag filled with amniotic fluid. ‘Rupture of membranes’ is the medical term for the amniotic sac breaking open. Many people refer to it as their ‘waters breaking’.

Usually, your waters break when your baby is ready to be born. In 3 out of 100 pregnancies, the waters break early — before 37 weeks of pregnancy and before labour starts. This is known as preterm prelabour rupture of membranes (PPROM).

What causes PPROM?

It’s unclear what causes PPROM. It’s more likely if:

How will I know if my waters have broken?

If your waters break, you’ll feel fluid coming from your vagina. The amount can vary. You may feel a big gush or a slow leak, or your underwear might feel damp.

Amniotic fluid usually smells sweet and may be clear or pink. If the fluid has a smelly odour or is green, brown or bright red, this could be a sign that you and your baby need urgent attention.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if it’s amniotic fluid or urine. Your doctor or midwife can test the fluid to see what it is.

What should I do if my waters break early?

If you think your waters have broken early, call your doctor or midwife immediately. You’ll need to be examined straight away.

Put a clean pad in your underwear to collect the fluid.

Be aware that if your waters have broken, the umbilical cord could slip out into your vagina. This is a serious emergency called cord prolapse. It is life-threatening for your baby.

If you feel something in your vagina after your waters break, call an ambulance and get down on your hands and knees with your bottom in the air.

How is PPROM diagnosed?

Your doctor or midwife will ask about your fluid loss and look at the fluid on your pad.

They may also do a vaginal examination using a speculum to look for amniotic fluid in your vagina. If there’s any doubt, they can do a test on the fluid in your vagina to see if it’s amniotic fluid. The test gives results in 5 to 10 minutes.

How is PPROM managed?

Once the amniotic sac has broken, it can’t be closed.

You’ll be asked to stay in hospital for monitoring and treatment. If you and your baby are well and you’re not in labour, you might go home after a few days.

You will be prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection.

If you are less than 36 weeks pregnant, you may be offered 2 injections of steroid medicine to help protect your baby’s lungs. If you are less than 30 weeks pregnant and your baby’s birth is expected within the next 24 hours, you may be prescribed a magnesium sulphate infusion (this medication is given through your vein) to help protect your baby’s brain.

You’ll have blood tests, urine tests and vaginal and anal swabs to check for infection. You’ll also have a cardiotocograph and an ultrasound to check your baby’s wellbeing.

When will my baby be born?

Most people with PPROM will go into labour within 2 weeks.

When your baby is born depends on:

  • whether you go into labour
  • your stage of pregnancy
  • your and your baby’s health

You may be able to wait for labour to start naturally. Although, if you or your baby are unwell, it may be safest to have your baby early.

Your doctor or midwife will talk to you about the safest time to have your baby. It’s a balance between the risks of your baby being born early and the risks of staying pregnant after your waters have broken. It’s generally best to wait until you are term, 37 weeks, but the timing of your baby’s birth will depend on your individual circumstances.

Are there risks if my waters break early?

Risks of PPROM include:

How should I look after myself after my waters break?

Pay attention to your baby’s movements, watch for fluid loss and check your body temperature regularly.

Tell your doctor or midwife immediately if:

  • your baby’s pattern of movement changes
  • you have a fever or feel unwell
  • you have abdominal pain
  • the fluid changes in colour, smell or amount
  • you start bleeding from your vagina

Make sure you go to your antenatal appointments and do the recommended tests.

Here are some ways to help prevent infection:

  • Change your pad every 4 hours. Don’t use tampons.
  • Shower every day.
  • Don’t have a bath or go swimming.
  • Avoid all types of sexual intercourse.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet.
  • Don’t put any medicines into your vagina.

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

Last reviewed: January 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

Pregnancy: premature labour & birth | Raising Children Network

Are you likely to be having a premature birth? Here’s all you need to know about preparing for and recovering from premature labour and birth.

Read more on website

Pregnancy: labour & birth | Raising Children Network

Pregnant? Here’s all you need to know to decide where to give birth and prepare for labour and vaginal birth or caesarean birth.

Read more on website

Labour & birth: what to expect | Raising Children Network

Early labour signs include a show, waters breaking and pain. During labour, your contractions increase and your cervix dilates, so you can birth your baby.

Read more on website

Labour and Birth

While every labour is unique and unpredictable, two signs that labour has started are contractions becoming longer, stronger and closer together and the rupture of membranes (‘waters breaking’).

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Premature birth & premature babies | Raising Children Network

This essential guide for parents of premature babies covers gestational age, premature birth risk factors, premature labour and premature development.

Read more on website

Premature birth: questions & checklist | Raising Children Network

Our checklist has answers to questions about premature birth and labour, covering where and how premature babies are born, and things to ask medical staff.

Read more on website

Assisted birth – forceps birth | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Read more on Queensland Health website

Developing a birth plan - Better Health Channel

A birth plan is a written summary of your preferences for when you are in labour and giving birth.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Premature babies and birth | Raising Children Network

Premature babies are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Our essential guide covers premature birth, babies, development, NICU and more.

Read more on website

Labour and Birth

Read this article to learn about your right to receive respectful maternity care.

Read more on Rahma Health website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.