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.
(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 there is to know about water breaking. Ready? Let’s go:
In this article 📝
- What triggers your water breaking?
- When will my water break?
- What happens when your water breaks?
- Signs your water is going to break
- How long after water breaks do you have to deliver?
- How to get your water to break
What triggers your water breaking?
(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 breaking, 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.
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 breaking is going to happen in a less than desirable situation.
Meeting with a new client? Year-end party? Your best friend’s white couch?
Spin the roulette wheel, because it’s mostly down to chance.
Causes of water breaking early in pregnancy
Water breaking early can happen, and it’s also known as preterm prelabor rupture of membranes (or PPROM).
What counts as water breaking early? Anything before week 37 of your pregnancy.
Thankfully, water breaking early is rare, happening only in about 3% of all pregnancies.
Water breaking early can also mean a preterm (or premature) baby, so it’s worth being aware of, just in case.
When will my water 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.
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.
But, usually, water breaking tends to happen at around week 39 of your pregnancy.
What happens when your water breaks?
Once your water’s breaking, pregnancy won’t last much longer ‒ there’s a baby on the way!
But what actually happens when your water breaks? Is it like a big sploosh of water, or is it more like a “water breaking or pee” kinda situation?
Let’s find out together.
What does water breaking feel like?
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.
So what does your water breaking feel like? Well, some mamas on Peanut have said that experiences include:
- A feeling akin to a ’pop’.
- 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.
But, as we’ve learned, there is no one way to take the birthing journey.
What one mama experiences with water breaking may not be your experience.
After all, for some pregnancies, there is no water breaking at all.
Does it hurt when your water breaks?
While water ‘breaking’ sounds like it might hurt, usually, there is no pain at all.
The amniotic sac that breaks doesn’t have any pain receptors, so it won’t cause you pain, although you may still feel a strange, ‘pop’ sensation.
What does water breaking look like?
As we’ve said before, different mamas experience water breaking differently.
But, generally speaking, water breaking looks… you’ve wet yourself.
Embarrassing though it may be, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, mama ‒ your baby’s just getting ready to meet you!
Wondering about the water breaking color? It’s usually either clear, light yellow, or a little pink with a hint of blood (don’t fret, that’s normal).
Water breaking or discharge?
Sometimes, your water breaking will just be a small trickle, so it can be hard to tell if it’s discharge or your water breaking.
One way of telling is to stand up ‒ if that causes more liquid to trickle, then that’s likely to be your water breaking.
Water breaking or pee?
There’s no denying it ‒ the further into your pregnancy, the more pressure on your bladder.
The poor thing’s working overtime, with a tiny human pressing against it!
So having the odd ‘accident’ every now and then is pretty much par for the course.
But how can you tell if your water’s breaking or if it’s just pee?
It sounds gross, but you’ll have to give it a sniff. If it smells like pee, then it’s pee.
What does water breaking smell like?
There’s not much of a smell when it comes to the amniotic fluid of your water breaking, but it can smell a little sweet.
So if it smells like ammonia, it’s pee, but if it smells sweet, then it’s baby time!
How much water comes out when your water breaks?
That all depends on what your amniotic sac feels like surprising you with.
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, that’s likely the little amniotic sac doing its rupturing trick.
Signs your water is going to break
Do you get any warning before water breaks?
Well, there’s no set rule, but there are a few signs that baby’s on their way, although these are more like signs you’ll soon be going into labor, rather than specific signs your water is going to break:
- Nesting and wanting to get your home cozy for the little one
- Cramps or prodromal labor ‒ a ‘test’ before the real thing
- Small trickle of water (before a bigger rush of water)
- Heartburn and indigestion
- A sudden need to poop
- Losing your mucus plug ‒ a.k.a. a ‘bloody show’
- You dream about water breaking (sometimes it can be a sign!)
But it’s important to note that some mamas-to-be might experience all or some of these signs of water going to break, but others may have no signs at all, and just be surprised with their water breaking.
How do you know if your water broke?
The truth is, you may not actually know for sure.
Like all things pregnancy and motherhood, every experience with water breaking 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 of fluid 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 underway, your body might release more fluid with your water breaking, 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 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 breaking. Either way, this is useful info for your healthcare provider.
Can your water break while laying down?
Yup, your water can break while you’re laying down ‒ even while you’re asleep.
Sometimes, though, if your water breaks while you’re lying down, it can be hard to tell.
Usually, when you stand up, more of your amniotic fluid will trickle out.
But laying down won’t prevent your waters from breaking.
How long after water breaks do you have to deliver?
This is one of those how long is a piece of umbilical cord? kind of questions.
Water breaking is a precursor to labor (if your water actually breaks, that is), but as for how long labor lasts? We can’t really give you an answer.
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 one of the biggest moments you will ever face in your life.
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.
Can your water break without contractions?
Yes, “water breaks, no contractions” can happen late in pregnancy.
It’s pretty rare, but if you experience water breaking without contractions for 24 hours afterward, it’s best to go to a hospital.
This is because, after your water breaks, there is a risk of infection that increases the longer it takes for your body to go into labor.
Can your water break without being dilated?
Yes, your water can break without you being dilated.
Water breaking is usually a precursor to labor, and for most pregnancies, “active” labor (the pretty painful bit) is when dilation properly starts.
How to get your water to break
Keen to meet baby? We get it, being overdue and Googling how to break my water at home or how to speed up your water breaking are totally normal responses.
But breaking your own water at home can be very dangerous, as it can make you and baby more prone to infection, or cause a shock to baby’s system.
You can, however, speak to your doctor about having a small procedure to break your waters, so if you’re concerned about not being in labor yet or your waters not breaking, give your doctor a call.
Water breaking during intercourse
Sex is one of the more famous ways to induce labor, but if your waters break during intercourse, it’s best to stop immediately.
Again, this is due to the increased risk of infection.
Not sure if it’s your water breaking or if you’re just… into it? The amount of liquid from your water breaking will be more than discharge.
There you have it: all there is to know about water breaking.
So, if you’re in your third trimester, keep a towel in close proximity, along with your hospital bag, and get ready ‒ baby’s about to make an appearance!
🤰 More on labor and delivery:
What is Precipitous Labor?
What To Expect from Induction of Labor
How to Induce Labor (Yourself)
Birth Plan Template: Tips & Advice
Online Birthing Classes: Are They Right For You?
Your Guide to Having a Vaginal Birth
Preparing for Childbirth: Helpful Things to Know
Tips for a More Confident Birth: 4 Things to Do Before You’re Due
Hypnobirthing: What It Is, How It Works, and Top Techniques
Choose Your Own (Birth) Adventure: 3 Must-Ask Questions