Did Your Water Break?

Signs your amniotic sac has ruptured and you're going into labor

"Water breaking" is when the amniotic sac that cushions a fetus ruptures and the fluid that is inside flows out of the vagina. You will realize that this has happened when amniotic fluid, which is clear, thin, and odor-free, either leaks slowly or gushes out. Generally, water breaking signals that you have entered or are about to be in labor.

Amniotic fluid protects a developing fetus during pregnancy. Once it drains from the amniotic sac, the risk of infection increases. A healthcare provider may consider inducing a pregnant person if they don't go into labor in the day or two after their water breaking for this reason.

The earlier in your pregnancy that your water breaks, the more serious it is for you and the fetus.

A person in a pool set up for at home birth with an exercise ball and couch (What to Know About Your Water Breaking)

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Signs of Water Breaking

Some people may feel a trickle of fluid that they can’t control or a gush of water downward. Others may feel dampness in their underwear that looks like they've peed or had a heavy vaginal discharge. 

You can usually tell the difference between your water breaking and vaginal discharge or a small urine leak by how much is coming out. If the fluid soaks through your underwear or a pad over a short period of time, it is probably amniotic fluid.

Water Breaking vs. Discharge

Vaginal discharge can sometimes be confused with amniotic fluid. Keep in mind that amniotic fluid is clear, thin, and odorless. Discharge can be as well, but it tends to become whiter, stickier, and thicker as pregnancy progresses. Discharge that doesn't fit this description should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Amniotic fluid and urine can be distinguished based on odor. While urine has a pungent smell, amniotic fluid is odorless or mildly sweet-smelling. 

The amniotic fluid will flow down more while you're standing if your water has broken. It may flow continuously over a period of time. Also, you shouldn’t notice any pain.

If you notice fluid leaking, use a pad to absorb some of it. Look at it and smell it to distinguish between urine and amniotic fluid. If you think your water has broken, call your healthcare provider immediately.

Why Water Can Break Early

Normally, your water will break during labor. However, sometimes your water can break before you go into labor. When your water breaks early, it's called premature rupture of membranes (PROM).

Your water usually breaks when you have reached 39 weeks of pregnancy. If your water breaks before 37 weeks, it's known as preterm prelabor rupture of membranes (PPROM).

PPROM affects 3% to 10% of all deliveries, and can cause problems like:

  • Detachment of the placenta from the uterus
  • Umbilical cord complications (the umbilical cord could slip down around or below the baby's head)
  • Infection in either the pregnant person or the baby

The cause of PROM is unknown in most cases. Some causes or risk factors can include:

  • Infections of the uterus, cervix, or vagina
  • Too much stretching of the amniotic sac if there is too much fluid or more than one baby is putting pressure on the membranes
  • Smoking
  • If you have had surgery or biopsies of the cervix
  • If you were pregnant before and had a PROM or PPROM

It's important to note that most people whose water breaks before labor do not have a risk factor.

Importance

Your water must break before your baby can be delivered. If this doesn’t happen naturally, your gynecologist may have to artificially rupture the membrane.

Contractions in your womb can be delayed for a few hours after your amniotic sac breaks. If they don’t begin within 24 to 48 hours, your doctor may have to induce labor to decrease the risk of infection.  

Sometimes your water breaks when your baby moves their head into the pelvic region in preparation for labor, which puts pressure on the membrane as they prepare for labor. 

The uterus keeps making amniotic fluid until the baby's birth. So you may still feel some leaking, especially right after a hard contraction.

Pregnant people need to take certain precautions to avoid contracting infections after their water breaks. Things like changing your sanitary pad every four hours during the day, whether wet or not, are important.

Also, pay close attention to the fluid in your pad. It is expected to remain clear, without an offensive smell. You may, however, notice a faint pink color and mucus. After using the bathroom, wipe carefully from front to back to avoid dragging bacteria into your vaginal canal. 

Summary

Your water usually breaks when you have reached week 39 of your pregnancy. It often occurs after labor begins, but it can also happen before. The amniotic fluid should be clear and odorless. If your water breaks, you should call your healthcare provider immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Water breaking in pregnancy is necessary for delivery to begin. Most times, it happens randomly. Other times, your doctor or midwife might artificially break the sac. 

Some pregnant people may experience a sudden gush, while others will feel dampness or trickles down their thighs. If you have any difficulties determining if your water has broken, contact your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long after your water breaks do you give birth?

    Most women will go into labor within 12 hours of their water breaking, but this can happen much sooner. Once labor begins, it can take between 10 to 24 hours (or more) to progress through the three stages of labor before your baby is born. After your first childbirth, labor usually takes less time.

  • Why does my doctor want to break my water?

    Your healthcare provider may recommend intentionally breaking the water bag around the baby (the amniotic sac) in order to start labor or speed it up. This may be to avoid having to perform a C-section.

  • How can I tell if my water broke?

    Amniotic fluid may leak slowly or gush out, which will feel much different than peeing. It will be thin, clear, and odorless. If the discharge is more jelly-like and clear or has bits of pink in it, it may be your mucus plug, which some women lose a few weeks before going into labor. 

  • Will my baby still move after my water breaks?

    Your baby will keep moving as usual after your water breaks. If your baby's movements slow or stop, go to the hospital or birth center at once. 

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Premature rupture of membranes.

  2. Sanford Health. How to know if your water breaks.

  3. Dars S, Malik S, Samreen I, Kazi RA. Maternal morbidity and perinatal outcome in preterm premature rupture of membranes before 37 weeks gestation. Pak J Med Sci. 2014 May;30(3):626-9. doi:10.12669/pjms.303.4853

  4. Michigan Medicine. Rupture of the membranes.

  5. Cedar-Sinai. First Baby: What to Expect

  6. Smyth RMD, Markham C, Dowswell T. Amniotomy for shortening spontaneous labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013:CD006167.pub3. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006167.pub4

  7. Ruptured membranes: when the bag of water breaks. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. 2016;61(4):545-546. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12509

By Margaret Etudo
Margaret Etudo is a health writing expert with extensive experience in simplifying complex health-based information for the public on topics, like respiratory health, mental health and sexual health.