If you’ve never given birth before, the whole water-breaking situation is a huge mystery. Your family and friends can try to prep you for what it’s like all they want — but it’s still really hard to know how everything goes down until it happens to you.
The movies will have you believe that you’ll be calmly walking down the street when your crotch suddenly explodes like a water balloon, but the reality of your water breaking isn’t usually quite as dramatic.
We’re breaking it down for you, so you’ll feel a little better prepared and know what to expect.
The truth about water breaking
In real life, most moms don’t have their membranes rupture in the middle of the grocery store or a work meeting. Approximately one in 12 pregnant moms will have their water break before labor begins — it’s more common for the amniotic membrane to rupture once labor really gets going and contractions come regularly. Sometimes water doesn’t break until mom is pushing the baby out. In other cases, water doesn’t break on its own, and a doctor or midwife needs to break it artificially using an amnio hook. For the sake of learning, however, let’s assume your water breaks spontaneously at home.
What will it feel like?
You may feel a strong gush of fluid, or feel only a trickle — you won’t be the first mom to wonder if your water broke or if you peed a little! Don’t be embarrassed if you’re unsure at first — eventually, there will be no question that you’re leaking amniotic fluid.
Be ready to answer these questions if your water breaks at home
If your water breaks before you’re at the hospital, don’t panic. Call your doctor or midwife to let them know, and be prepared to answer three important questions:
1. What time did your water break?
They will use this information to determine if and when you may need to come to the hospital. Once your water breaks the risk of infection increases, so after a certain number of hours — your provider can tell you their usual protocol — if you’re not having regular contractions, she will discuss inducing or augmenting labor.
2. What does it look like?
Normal amniotic fluid looks like water. It should be clear and colorless. If your water is green or brown, it could indicate your baby passed meconium — the first poop — in utero and may be a sign of distress. Your doctor or midwife will likely want you to come to the hospital soon, so they can assess the color of the fluid and baby’s well-being.
3. What does it smell like?
Amniotic fluid should be odorless. If it smells bad, you may have an infection. Just like above, chances are good you’ll be asked to come and get checked out much sooner rather than later. If you test positive for Group B strep and your water breaks, antibiotics will need to be administered, since the risk of infection increases for your baby.
Next steps and tips
If contractions aren’t regular yet — and if your doctor or midwife hasn’t told you to go to the hospital — try to relax and rest until the contractions get longer, stronger and closer together.
Keep a package of overnight sanitary pads on hand. Some moms get waterproof mattress covers or purchase waterproof “chux” pads at the drugstore. These are the same pads used in hospitals. If you don’t end up needing them if your water breaks, they make great changing pads for babies.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below:
Originally published April 2013. Updated March 2017.