Ah, the water breaking: a scene that might just be more common in movies than the car chase. You know it well. The emergency rush to the hospital through busy New York streets, the race down the hallways as good looking medical professionals part ways, the screams of the delivery room.
But while Hollywood has insisted that we see a version of this particular experience more often than perhaps many of us want, the true ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of the water break are typically left up to our imaginations.
Whether you’re right in your first trimester or you’ve already packed your hospital bag, the more you know beforehand about what to expect from your water breaking, the better. (That comes with a caveat, however. Doomscrolling through horrific labor stories is not productive by any stretch of the imagination—or cervix for that matter.)
So it’s time to fill in the gaps with a crash course in all things water break. Ready? Let’s go:
Water Breaking 101
Why does it happen?
(I mean seriously. Could this whole giving birth thing maybe happen in less of a dramatic way?)
If you’re wondering what puts the water in water break, it’s amniotic fluid caused by the rupturing of the amniotic sac. (By now, you’re probably no longer grossed out by bodily fluids. This is just one of the many to get intimate with.)
This little amniotic sac is really something (good job for making it, mama) and has kept your baby nourished, healthy and comforted throughout your pregnancy.
But now your baby has decided it’s on to bigger things! There’s a whole world out there just waiting for them to be a person in. They’re ready to tear apart this comfortable little sac that has been their home for nine months.
So, what we’re saying is this:
If you’ve got a bun in the oven, water breaking is how that little bun(dle) is going to tell you it’s done.
Now, while that may sound all well and good, a huge worry for many a mama-to-be is that her water break is going to happen in a less than desirable situation. Meeting with a new client? Year-end party? Your best friend’s white couch? So the next question of course is:
When will my waters break?
Firstly, take a deep breath. Here’s the thing that the movies don’t tell you:
Your water breaking typically only happens when you’re a good way along on your labor journey.
Having said that, this is not a hard and fast rule. Some mamas experience their water breaking before labor begins. This is called a premature rupture of the membranes (PROM) and typically only occurs in about 8 to 10% of mamas-to-be. It may be that labor has to be induced as a result to avoid infection, so if you’re thinking this is your situation, get to your healthcare provider as soon as you can.
Either way, the answer to the WHEN question, is WHEN the amniotic sac breaks and your baby is ready to be born.
What does it feel like when your water breaks?
The reality is, we will all experience water breaking a little differently.
For some, it feels like a dripping tap, for others like the floodgates have opened—but for the most part, it’s not going to cause any water damage in the house.
- A feeling akin to a pop (Champagne, anyone?)
- Waves, with bursts coming as your little one readies themselves by changing position
- Slight trickles that feel about as dramatic as a little pee escaping when you laugh too hard.
- A big gush akin to a Hollywood movie.
So if you’re asking, How much water comes out when your water breaks?—that all depends on what your amniotic sac feels like surprising you with. Generic experiences are rarely the realm of the birthing experience.
One thing you can do to see if it’s actually your water breaking and not some pee paying you an inappropriately-timed visit is to put on some dry underwear and rest for a moment. If that moisture is still coming when you’re resting, um… that’s likely the little amniotic sac doing its rupturing trick.
How do I know if my water broke?
The truth is, you may not actually know for sure. Like all things pregnancy and motherhood, every experience is unique and no two bodies are alike.
As discussed, you will likely experience varying degrees of moisture. That moisture will look either clear or a very pale yellow and usually not have much of a scent. (There were about 4 cups worth in that little sac at its height of 36 weeks, but you’ve already lost some of this by the time your baby’s come to term.)
As contractions get under way, your body might release more fluid and this fun leakage will keep on going right until that baby is well out. (Look, nobody said this wasn’t going to be messy. You may want to have a towel or sheet ready for the occasion if you don’t want to redecorate your car seats.)
It is however important to keep track so that whoever’s delivering your baby has all the intel they need.
Here are some two important things to remember (and perhaps keep on a post-it note somewhere so when the time comes, you’re not like, Ahhhhh! What was I supposed to do again?)
- Note the time of your water break, or what you think is your water breaking.
- Time your contractions. These may have already started prior to your water break. Either way, this is useful info for your healthcare provider.
Finally, you’re probably wondering:
How long can you wait to have a baby after your water breaks?
This is one of those how long is a piece of umbilical cord? kind of questions. The longest labor ever recorded is 75 days. For real. With the shortest being 2 minutes. You get the picture, the graph spans a pretty large time frame.
Whatever your labor experience, we don’t need to tell you that this is seriously one of the biggest moments you will ever face in your life. There’s simply no blueprint. Acknowledge the feelings that come up, muster as much support around you as you can, and believe in your damn self. Your body is pretty darn amazing to be able to do all this stuff.