For nine months, mom has been waiting for the moment when her water breaks. It's a physical sign that the baby is about to arrive, and that can make the anticipation pretty exciting.
But like most things in pregnancy, moms won't know what it feels like until they have experienced it — and even then, it may be entirely different the next time. It can be messy or they may not even notice. And sometimes moms need some help to get it done. No matter how it happens, it's definitely a signal that something is going on. But what?
Everyone knows that their water will break at some point. But what happens after that? It all depends on a bunch of factors, from what stage of labor it happens in to how much or how little amniotic fluid is left. It can be a problem if it happens too early, and doctors are going to monitor you for complications like umbilical cord prolapse and infection. But most of the time, it's just a moment — a weird, wet, wild moment — in your labor and delivery story.
There is no feeling of anticipation that is greater than when the water breaks, because one thing is for sure when it happens. The baby will arrive fairly soon — it could be minutes or it could be days, but the arrival is imminent.
Whether it happens at the beginning of a labor story or at the end, here are 15 things that happen after the water breaks.
15 Amniotic Sac
Think of your bag of waters as a special cushion for your baby. It gives your baby freedom to move within your body, and it gives the space so that when someone taps your belly, your baby isn't in danger of a bruise. And it helps regulate the temperature, so that your baby stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
It's a big deal — big enough that it forms very early in pregnancy at about 12 days after conception. It's a major part of your baby's support system and it also aids in the development.
The fluid inside is what your baby ingests and excretes for the better part of nine months. And that process is key in helping his body practice those functions for when he comes into the world. The amniotic sac is linked to the development of digestion and it also helps with the lung development.
14 On The Mark
A woman should always mark the time when her water breaks. It's a key marker for your health care provider to know about your labor, and both doctors and midwives always take note.
While it is atypical for the water to break before contractions begin, it does happen for some women, and because that means that there is a break in the seal that protects the baby from infections, most doctors want the baby to be born within 24 hours to ensure that the baby is healthy. Sometimes, the doctor will give a woman some time for the contractions to begin on their own, but if they don't within 12 hours or so, that may mean that the doctor recommends an induction, unless the baby would be premature.
This isn't something to worry about because less than 10 percent of women experience their water breaking before contractions start. It's more typical for the contractions to get going for a number of hours — maybe even longer than a day. Sometimes things go slowly until the the water breaks, and then when it does break, it picks up the pace.
13 Rev The Engines
It's hard to quantify, but there is anecdotal evidence that when your water breaks, your labor speeds up. The thought is that when the baby is more directly in the birth canal and bearing down on the cervix, then the cervix will open faster, so labor will go more quickly.
Most of the time, a woman's water breaks about the time that she goes into transition — the third stage of labor where the contractions are nearly on top of each other and the cervix quickly dilates the final few centimeters. Transition is always the fastest phase of labor, so it isn't clear what exactly the role of the breaking of the water is.
But one thing is certain. Your baby is coming, and probably coming quickly. It could be a matter of hours — or even minutes — from the time the water breaks until the time that the baby is out and crying. Then again, sometimes the breaking of the water doesn't do anything to speed things along. It's just another point in the process, and another memory to tell your baby about on every birthday.
12 Bring On The Pain
It doesn't hurt for your water to break — in fact, you may not even notice when it happens, unless you feel a little warm and wet down below. But for many women, the breaking of the water ushers in the painful part of labor.
Like we said below, the big splash usually comes about the time that the contractions are due to be the most painful anyway. But women who have experienced labor with an early breaking of the water and a later one all agree — it hurts worse if the amniotic sac has already ruptured.
That cushion that has been protecting the baby during pregnancy also helps to protect the mom from some pain during the contractions. But once the cushion is a bit deflated, there muscle contractions hurt even more. Brace for it, ladies; now that your water is broken, you could be in for a painful — but quick — end to your labor.
11 Splash Water Falls
In the movies, a woman's water breaks, and the splash can be heard across five aisles at the grocery store. Your socks and shoes get soaked, and you can bet that the manager will call for a "clean up on aisle 4."
But that rarely happens in real life. For one, only a fraction of women have their water break before the final stage of labor, so very few are out and about during the magic moment. And second of all, it is rare that a large amount of fluid comes out. You could hear a popping sound, but some women say they don't hear a thing.
The amount of amniotic fluid peaks at about 36 weeks, and for most women, their uterus holds about 1 quart at the time. After that, the level goes down, and the baby blocks a lot of it from coming out. That's a good thing, since the baby still needs protection during labor.
You may want to sit on a towel on the way to the hospital, or maybe put a pad in your underwear, because you are probably going to be leaking fluid for a little while.
10 Testing The Waters
Let's face it, ladies. At the end of pregnancy, your bladder is battered, and it's not always easy to keep your underwear dry when your amniotic sac is still intact. Add some Braxton Hicks contractions, and that could fool you into thinking that labor has begun.
Amniotic fluid feels a little bit different than a little bit of urine. For one, you ought to be able to clench and stop a pee, but you may not be able to stop an amniotic leak. Also, your water should be clear and odorless, unlike the slight stench of urine. But if it's just a little drop and your anxious about labor, sometimes a little accident could make you wonder if this is the time.
If you end up at the doctor's office or the hospital, your doctor can do a little test that can determine if your sac is still intact. It's pretty unobtrusive and easy. The results sometimes take a few hours, but if it happens early, it's often necessary to know if you need an intervention to keep your baby inside as long as possible.
9 Premature Rupture
As we talked about before, it's not typical for your water to break before your labor begins. But it happens for 8 to 12 percent of women. Many of those times, labor is coming soon, but sometimes it happens long before baby is due. That is known as preterm premature rupture of membranes, and it isn't a good thing.
If you are more than 37 weeks along, then your doctor will probably start things along if they need to. But if you haven't reached that point, there could be a danger that your baby could be premature.
If it happens to you, your doctor is going to try to help you keep the baby in. That is probably going to include bed rest, and your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics, since you are more susceptible to infection when your water breaks. Your doctor may also prescribe steroids, which are given to try to give babies an extra boost in maturing their lungs if they come early.
Your baby has a better chance to be healthy the closer he is to full-term, so do what you can to follow doctor's orders. Your body can make more amniotic fluid, even as it is leaking, so you still have a good chance of a healthy delivery.
8 Umbilical Issue
One of the biggest dangers of water breaking before labor begins is the danger of the umbilical cord getting in the way. It's called umbilical cord prolapse, and if the cord is in the way, it could get compressed by the baby in the birth canal.
The umbilical cord is still helping your baby get blood and oxygen during the delivery, and it is a big deal if that flow gets cut off. In fact, an umbilical cord prolapse usually results in a doctor recommending a C-section.
You can sometimes feel the cord on its way out, and your doctor is probably going to check quickly if you come in with your water broken. Usually, by the time the baby starts to enter the birth canal, the danger of the prolapsed cord goes away, but it could mean some extra monitoring at the beginning of your labor. Just know that it is all to make sure that your baby is born safely. It's a risk, but doctors are trained to take care of you both.
7 Checking For Leaks
While it's a good idea to go to the doctor if you have reason to believe that your amniotic fluid is leaking when your baby isn't full term, there is a way that you can see for yourself if your are full term.
If you think your fluid is leaking, then try laying down for a few minutes. When you get up, do you feel a little liquid again? That could be a sign of a leak.
Think of your amniotic sac as a bathtub with a rubber ducky inside. If the rubber ducky — your baby — is over the drain, then it acts like a plug and stops the flow. If you lay down, you may be able to shift your baby's head just the slightest bit away from the hole and the fluid will escape in the second before the baby shifts back to cover it.
It may seem silly, but it could help you figure out if its time to get checked. It could mean that your baby will be on the way soon.
6 Smelly Situation
You need to pay attention when you water breaks at home. It can hold some clues that are important for your health care provider about whether or not your baby is OK.
You may not know what amniotic fluid is supposed to look and smell like, but let us assure you, you know what it isn't supposed to smell like. You will notice if the fluid has an odor, and that is important. It could be a clue that your baby had a bowel movement or there is some kind of infection in your body. If that is the case, your doctor is going to be on the look out for other signs and could make suggestions for getting the baby out quicker and healthier.
If you had been planning a home birth, you need to let your midwife or a health care provider know about the smell as well. It may mean that your plans need to change to ensure that your baby arrives healthy.
5 Color Cue
Like the smell, the color of the water is a special clue as to whether things are OK or not. Amniotic fluid is clear — or at least it should be. If you notice a slight yellow tint, that is probably OK, but you should tell your doctor.
But if your fluid is brown or green, then that is definitely a sign that something isn't right. It probably means that your baby has had her first bowel movement. And while your baby is urinating while in the womb — that is what makes up the amniotic fluid, along with water and nutrients from the mom — that first bowel movement isn't supposed to happen until after the baby is out.
Your baby is breathing that amniotic fluid in and out, which means that if the tarry first poop known as meconium is in the amniotic fluid, it could get into your baby's lungs and cause problems breathing.
That can cause distress during labor, but most of the time a vaginal delivery can be continued. But it is important that a health care provider is ready to intervene after the baby's birth if she needs help breathing, which is why a home birth may not longer be an option.
4 Do It Yourself
As we mentioned before, it's rare for your water to break before labor. In fact, sometimes, you may need a little help to pop that water balloon.
Sweeping the membranes and breaking the water are two things that doctors can try to induce labor. And if things have started but aren't progressing very fast, sometimes, it's a solution that can help your body get things more in motion.
First, let me explain about stripping the membranes. It isn't as bad as it sounds, I promise. It basically involves your doctor moving the amniotic sac away from the walls of the uterus. (Don't try it at home, unless you have someone trained and you use sterile gloves.) Usually, it can be done pretty gently by inserting a finger into the cervix and just creating a little space between the two. Often, that can be enough to get things going, although the research isn't clear on how often it works. Your water could break on its own soon, or our contractions could begin.
If your labor has started but it isn't going very fast, your doctor could recommend an amniotomy. Literally, that is a procedure that breaks the amniotic sac. Since the statistics seem to point to a broken sac helping to speed up labor and strengthen contractions, some doctors think that if they can get the water broken, they can move things along quicker.
The procedure is somewhat simple and painless. It can feel as uncomfortable as any cervix check, but this time instead of just measuring how many centimeters you are, the doctor will insert a special instrument. It looks a little like a crochet hook and it acts kind of the same too. Your doctor will use it to prick a little hole in your amniotic sac, enough to free a little fluid and stimulate the hormones that can help speed your labor along.
Most women say that the amniotomy is just a momentary blip during labor and delivery. It isn't tough, and you may not feel a change immediately. The "artificial rumpture of membrane" is a pretty common method of induction, and if it works, you'll get to hold your bundle of joy pretty soon.
2 En Caul
As rare as the movie scenario of a big gushing breaking of the water is, there is one circumstance that is even more rare and extraordinary. Sometimes — not very often at all, but sometimes — a baby is born without the amniotic sac breaking at all.
It's called being born en caul, and it is rare but amazing.
The most common kind of en caul birth involves having the baby born with a piece of the amniotic sac still covering the baby's head or face, but on even rare occasions, sometimes the entire sac remains.
It doesn't happen very often for vaginal births, since the pressure of contractions usually eventually pops the sac like a water balloon. And even in Cesarean births, the sac is usually pierced. But when it does happen, it's amazing. You haven't had to feel the harshest kind of contractions, and your baby is born with the least trauma possible.
The baby doesn't have to breathe right away because of he is still getting oxygen from the placenta via the umbilical cord, and for a few moments, you can watch your baby in the amazing sac that surrounded him in the womb.
It's considered good luck, and not just because of the lower pain during labor. The moment that the doctor breaks through that barrier and lets your child fully enter the world is amazing.
The ultimate outcome of your water breaking — no matter whether it happens before labor begins or after the baby is out of the womb — is birth.
Doctors are considering the values of trying a C-section that attempts to preserve the sac for premature births (when possible) to try to ease the baby's transition as much as possible. But sometimes your body has other plans.
Doctors don't really have an explanation for why some amniotic sacs burst before others, although poor prenatal care, smoking, STDs and family history could put you at a higher chance for preterm premature rupture of membranes. Sometimes, it happens on its own and there isn't anything you can do to stop it.
Sometime soon — whether its minutes or hours or even days later — you will get to meet your baby.
It's pretty awe-inspiring no matter when or where your amniotic sac bursts. Whether it comes with a gush, a leak or it waits until the end, it's a moment you will never forget.