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    What does it feel like when your water breaks?

    Updated 19 December 2023 |
    Published 20 December 2023
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Boyle, Obstetrician and gynecologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts, US
    Written by Jennifer Barton
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    Whether it’s a gush of liquid or a trickle of fluid, here’s everything you need to know about your water breaking.

    They say life is rarely like the movies, and we think that might be especially true for anyone trying to figure out what happens when your water breaks (when the sac that surrounds your baby breaks open and the amniotic fluid spills or trickles out). 

    The truth is that the whole experience varies from one person to the next — and from pregnancy to pregnancy. So unlike on screen, your water breaking won’t always result in a dramatic gush of fluid, although that can happen. Instead, you might experience a small trickle of liquid, or your water might not break at all. 

    But did you know that despite being considered one of the stages of labor, around 10% of people’s water will break before labor has started? Following this, labor will begin within 24 hours for around 60% of women, while others might need some help with getting labor started (more on that later).

    So, what does water breaking feel like, what do you need to watch out for, and how soon can you expect your baby to make an appearance once it’s happened? 

    Key takeaways

    • Your water breaking is the opening of the amniotic sac, which surrounds and protects your baby in the uterus. In medical terms, this is called a rupture of the membranes.
    • For around 90% of people, labor will start before the water breaks. But for others, the water will break before labor begins.
    • Water breaking can feel like anything from a light wetness to a dramatic “waterfall” gush. 

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    Water breaking — what is it? 

    While your baby is in your uterus, they are surrounded by a fluid-filled sac known as the amniotic sac. This sac has two membranes, which are thin layers of tissue that work to protect your baby from infections. The rupturing of this sac and the release of the odorless, clear, or yellowish amniotic fluid through your vagina is known as the rupture of the membranes, aka your water breaking

    If your water breaks, then it means your baby could be coming soon, which could be exciting, daunting, and a whole spectrum of other emotions at the same time. If you suspect that your water has broken, reach out to your health care provider right away to find out the next steps.

    Why does it happen? 

    This is a bit of a mystery — experts aren’t really sure what causes your water to break. Some theories suggest that the amniotic sac weakens and then breaks due to changes in hormones or signals from your baby’s brain, but more research is needed to establish an exact cause.

    When does it happen? 

    In all likelihood, your water will break while you’re in labor. Most people will already be having contractions when it happens. 

    Occasionally, however, your water could break before labor begins. This is known as pre-labor rupture of membranes (PROM), and it happens in 8% to 10% of pregnancies. Around 60% of women who experience PROM will go into labor within 24 hours of their water breaking, but others might need help in getting their labor started, for example, with an induction of labor. This aims to help your uterus contract, and you can be induced via a number of methods, including medication and an amniotomy (more on that later).

    Your water could also break early before you’re at term (37 weeks pregnant). This is called preterm pre-labor rupture of the membranes (PPROM), and it’s linked to around one-third of all preterm births. This sounds scary, but rest assured that it is rare; it is only thought to happen in around 3% of pregnancies. It’s important that you contact your health care provider as soon as possible if you think your water has broken early so they can check you over and discuss the next steps.

    What could water breaking feel like? 

    As with so many pregnancy-related things, there’s no definitive answer to the question “What does water breaking feel like?” because every labor is different. You might feel some wetness in your underwear, a light trickle of fluid, or a gush of liquid coming out of your vagina — or something in between. These are all completely normal.

    Flo’s Secret Chats community is a judgment-free zone where people post about their experiences of everything from menstrual cycles to thrush symptoms. For those curious about how to know if their water broke, there are lots of people posting about their experiences.

    One person assumed their water breaking was just pee, but then their baby came a day and a half later: “I noticed my pants were a bit wet, didn’t think anything of it, as I thought maybe I just peed a little by accident,” they wrote.

    Another person had the opposite experience, noting they were “completely shocked at how much fluid came out when my water broke. Was like a waterfall, but I was told to expect that.”

    What’s the difference between amniotic fluid and urine?

    You might be wondering how to tell if your water broke or if you’ve just peed a little (which is totally common during pregnancy, by the way).

    The biggest differences between amniotic fluid and pee are the color and the smell. Amniotic fluid is typically odorless and clear, although it could have a slight yellow tint. In comparison, pee can have a very distinctive smell and is usually yellow in color. But here’s an interesting fact to keep in mind: The odor of pee is most noticeable after it dries, while more diluted pee has less of a smell. So if you are well hydrated, pee might not have much of an odor when you check right after it comes out.

    If you’re unsure if you’re leaking amniotic fluid or urine, you could try holding it in. Unlike pee, you won’t be able to stop amniotic fluid from coming out, and it will keep coming out even after you have finished peeing.

    If you’re still not sure, here’s a tip from the experts. Put on a clean pair of underwear and a pad and lie on your back for 15 to 30 minutes. If fluid comes out of your vagina when you stand up, then your water may well have broken. Tell your doctor or obstetrician and gynecologist immediately so they can advise you on the next steps.

    Are there any signs you should watch for?

    It can be difficult to know whether your water has broken, especially if you only experience a feeling of wetness in your underwear or a small trickle of fluid. It shouldn’t hurt when your water breaks, so aside from fluid, there aren’t any obvious signs to look out for.

    With this in mind, trust your instincts. It never hurts to call your health care provider for help, support, and monitoring if needed. They’ll be able to confirm if your water has broken by doing a vaginal exam or testing the fluid with a type of paper (called nitrazine or litmus paper) that changes color when it touches amniotic fluid.

    What happens if your water breaks before you're at term?

    We now know that PPROM can happen in around 3% of pregnancies. This can be frightening, but rest assured that your health care provider will know what steps to take. They will be able to check you over and recommend the safest course of action for both you and your baby. This could mean delivery of your baby if you’re at least 34 weeks pregnant.

    However, if your water breaks when you’re less than 34 weeks pregnant, your health care provider might offer you treatments that can help your baby by attempting to delay delivery. This could involve using antibiotics to protect against infections or giving you steroids to help your baby’s lungs reach maturity faster. This can be understandably worrying, and you might have some questions or concerns you want to raise. Be sure to speak to your health care provider to make sure you have all of the information you need

    What if your water doesn’t break naturally?

    If you’re in active labor (meaning your baby’s head is pushing into your pelvis, your cervix is dilated, and you’re having regular contractions), but your water hasn’t broken yet, your health care provider may discuss the option of performing artificial rupture of membranes, or an amniotomy, with you. This involves using a device to create a hole in your amniotic sac, which will cause your water to break. This can help the contractions to become stronger and occur more frequently, helping labor to progress. 

    It’s important that you feel comfortable with the decisions being made during your labor and not pressured into anything. So, if you feel unsure about the procedure, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you want answered, and take some time to decide what to do if you feel you need to.

    What happens after your water breaks?

    In most cases, labor will start within 24 hours of your water breaking. So if your water breaks, or you think it has, reach out to your health care team to find out what to do next. Their advice will depend upon how far along you are in your pregnancy and other factors, such as the color and smell of your water.

    When to contact your doctor

    Experts recommend that you contact your health care provider as soon as you suspect your water has broken. Depending on your personal situation, they may advise you to go to the hospital right away. If your water smells, isn’t clear, or has a brown or green color, or if you’re losing blood, make sure you let your doctor know this right away. This may mean you and your baby need urgent medical attention, but try not to panic. Your health care provider will be able to check you over and offer any further monitoring or treatment needed.

    More FAQs

    What does your belly feel like when your water breaks?

    You shouldn’t feel any pain in your belly when your water breaks. However, if your contractions have already started before your water breaks, then you may already be feeling cramp-like pains in your back or pelvis.

    Does the baby still move after my water breaks?

    Yes, your baby will still move after your water breaks and should continue to keep moving right through labor. Feeling your baby move is very important, so if you notice any changes or have any concerns, contact your doctor right away.

    Can my water break without contractions?

    Yes, your water can break before you’ve started to experience contractions — this is known as pre-labor rupture of membranes (PROM) if it happens at 37 weeks of pregnancy or later. It affects around 8% to 10% of pregnancies. Call your medical practitioner right away if you think this has happened.

    Can your water break while sleeping?

    Yes, your water can break while you’re sleeping, eating, or just walking around. In fact, it can happen at any time of the day or night.


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    History of updates

    Current version (19 December 2023)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Boyle, Obstetrician and gynecologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts, US
    Written by Jennifer Barton

    Published (20 December 2023)

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