What to Do if Your Water Breaks

Only about 10-12% of mothers begin their labors with a rupture of the membranes. In some cases, the water breaks with a trickle and at other times, there will be one or more larges gushes that signal the mother’s water has broken. If you are fairly certain your water has broken, what should you do?

Note the Time Water has Broken

It is a good idea to make a mental note of when the water breaks. It is a definite sign of labor that signals labor has begun. The time that water has broken is important in that medical care providers will want to see that labor has begun and is progressing within 24 hours. The risk of infection to the baby increases 24 hours after a rupture of membranes.

Note How Much Amniotic Fluid You Notice

Has water broken with a trickle or a gush? Sometimes water can break with such a gush that it is unmistakable. When this happens, the forebag of fluid below the baby’s head typically breaks and often the baby’s head presses more directly on the cervix, causing contractions to start within a few hours.

If the membranes rupture with a trickle, this can be harder to identify. Mothers may need to go into their provider’s office or the hospital to have the fluid tested to be certain it is, in fact, amniotic fluid. In some cases, contractions may not begin right away and the care provider could advise starting pitocin to get labor moving along.

Is There Any Color to the Fluid?

Since the baby does urinate into the fluid, it is rarely completely colorless or clear, but it is important to make a note of any observable color such as green, brown or black. This is a sign of meconium (or the baby having a bowel movement) while still in the uterus. Meconium can be inhaled into the baby’s lungs and can be thick enough to prevent baby from breathing as she will need to in the first few minutes of life.

The presence of meconium requires that additional medical staff attend the birth to suction the baby immediately after he is born. Therefore, laboring mothers will want to report any dark yellow, green or brown color to their care provider when calling after the water breaks.

Do You Notice Any Foul Odor to the Amniotic Fluid?

Amniotic fluid has a musky, pungent odor to it. However, if it smells rancid or foul, it could be an indication of an infection in the amniotic fluid.

Even though it is rare to get an infection while the mother is still laboring at home, if there is a particularly foul odor when the water breaks, this is an important thing to note when calling the care provider.

What are Results of Your GBS Test?

The majority of mothers are tested for Group B Strep (GBS) around 36-37 weeks of pregnancy. If the mother’s water breaks and the GBS test was positive, she will be required to go to the hospital or birth center soon so that she can start receiving antibiotics.

If the GBS test result was negative and the water breaks, the care provider may suggest waiting a bit longer at home to see if contractions start on their own.

Other Things to Avoid if Your Water Has Broken

Be careful not to introduce anything vaginally after you suspect the bag of waters has broken. This includes tampons, having intercourse or checking your own dilation. Some care providers may also recommend that you avoid taking baths after your water has broken. All of these things may increase the risk of infection.

Call Care Provider

After making note of timeamountcolor and odor (see above) of the amniotic fluid, call the care provider to inform them of the results. If you happen to know the GBS test results, remind the care provider when calling him or her.

The care provider will either encourage a mother to come in and be monitored after her water has broken or he or she may allow a few extra hours to labor at home, depending on her medical needs or concerns.

Is Baby Coming Quickly Once Water Breaks?

TV shows and movies often portray a woman in labor giving birth very quickly once her water has broken. While in some cases that can happen, first-time mothers rarely have fast labors. A good rule of thumb is to watch what your body does after your water breaks:

  • Do any contractions start after your water breaks? Are they close together and intense right away? If so, it is best to not wait too long at home before heading in to your place of birth.
  • Has your water broken but there are no contractions? If contractions have not started for several hours after your water breaks, you might want to discuss ways to stimulate labor with your care provider.
  • Have you already been in labor when your water breaks? Sometimes if the mother is in active labor when the water breaks, the contractions will become noticeably more intense, which can make labor progress more quickly.

Only a small number of women start labor with their water breaking. The rest will find that their water breaks later in labor. If a mother’s water breaks at home, it is important to note several signs so that she can be cared for by the medical team when she arrives at the hospital or birth center.