We’ve all seen it – that movie with the pregnant woman minding her own beeswax, perhaps sorting through apples in the fruit aisle, when….plop! She looks at her feet in shock as a mad frenzy ensues to get her to the hospital, because she might just have her baby on the floor of the supermarket, ANY MINUTE.
One of the most common questions I’m asked as women reach the end of their pregnancies is about waters breaking – or in technical terms, spontaneous rupture of membranes.
Did my water just break? How would I know? And most importantly – how can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me in the middle of Woolworths?!
It might surprise you to learn that the vast majority of labours don’t begin with waters breaking – in fact, only about one in ten spontaneous labours will start this way. For the other 9 in 10, waters will remain intact until they rupture on their own well into labour, or until consent to rupture them artificially is given. Something else I’ve noticed in my years as a doula, and that many midwives will also atest to, is that waters often break or begin to leak late at night. So even if your labour does begin this way, it’s fairly likely that you’ll be in the privacy of your home rather than the fruit aisle. Phew.
Before I go further, a caveat – if your pregnancy hasn’t yet reached term, is high risk, or you don’t know if your baby is head down in your pelvis, there are special factors to consider and you should contact your caregiver as soon as you can.
How Will I Know If My Water Breaks?
- For most women, the dramatic gush of Hollywood labours doesn’t happen. Usually, waters breaking before contractions begin is experienced as a trickle of fluid, rather than a flood.
- Contractions might not begin right away – so don’t assume your water didn’t break just because you aren’t having any yet.
- If you’re soaking a pad every five minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet that this is not a test run.
- A trickle or small amounts of fluid can occasionally be confused with urine leaking, or lots of watery vaginal discharge. A good way to check if it’s urine is to clench and try to stop the flow, just as you’d do on the toilet mid-stream. If you can’t stop it, it may be amniotic fluid.
What Should I Do?
- Pop a pad on, grab your phone and lie down for about 30 minutes. Amniotic fluid pools in the vagina when you’re lying down – so if your waters have broken, when you get up again you’ll probably feel it coming out onto the pad right away. If it was just urine or discharge, you won’t notice anything much when you stand up.
- Call your careprovider or hospital – some will want to see you, others will ask you a few questions and be happy to watch and wait. You’ll most likely be asked about:
Is the fluid clear? Is it tinged (pink, yellow or even green/brown)? Clear or light pinkish is normal, other observations need to be discussed with your careprovider.
Amniotic fluid smells vaguely like semen, or bleach. There shouldn’t be any sort of nasty smell to it.
Was it a big gush, or a trickle?
When did you first notice it? Are you still noticing it now?
There are a number of medical tests that can be used to determine whether or not your water has broken. Depending on the policy of your care provider or hospital, these may be offered to you. If you do choose to go into hospital, remember to ask questions to help you decide your best course from there. Some starting points could be:
- What are my options while I wait for labour?
- If I remain in hospital, how long before you would recommend further action to begin labour?
- If I go home, is there anything I should be looking out for?
- If labour doesn’t begin in the next 12-24 hours, what would you be suggesting we do?
- What are the risks to my baby and me at this point? What can we do to manage those risks?
In the meantime, no sexy-time for you – if your water has broken, sex increases the risk of an infection. But you SHOULD get cuddly with hubby, and get those oxytocin receptors firing. Remember to rest and stay well hydrated – you have a big task ahead!