It’s the most common way labour and birth is portrayed in films and on TV – a big gush of water, lots of screaming and a big rush to the hospital to have the baby. All very dramatic, even more so when waters in film/on TV always tend to break publicly, in the shops, at a party or surrounded by people!
In reality it’s rarely like this – it’s not that common for your waters to break before your labour starts – so the big gush at the supermarket checkout we’ve all seen on TV is rare! For most, your waters will probably break when you are already in established labour – and for some they may not break at all and your baby will be born in their amniotic sac (often called an en caul birth).
It won’t always be a big dramatic gush when it happens either – you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of fluid that you can’t stop.
So how will I know my waters have broken?
It can be difficult because it’s different for everyone as it’s hard to predict exactly how much fluid you’ll lose when your water breaks.
It may feel like a stream of warm liquid that makes your underwear and possibly even your pants wet. But more likely is that it will be a slow and steady trickle of fluid.
Once your water breaks, you’ll notice a continuous drip of clear or pale yellow and odourless or sweet-smelling amniotic fluid that won’t let up until your baby is born. If you think your waters have broken, put a sanitary pad (not a tampon) on and call your midwife. You’ll be asked questions about what time it happened, how you are feeling and what colour the waters are.
If you’re not sure whether your waters have broken or just leaking a bit of urine, it’s best to still contact your midwife or maternity unit, so they can verify whether you’re actually leaking amniotic fluid.
How will the midwives check to see if my waters have broken?
If you or your midwife think your waters might have broken but aren’t sure, you should be offered an internal examination.
With your permission (consent), your midwife or doctor will insert a small plastic instrument called a speculum into your vagina, so they can see the neck of the womb. You may be asked to cough to encourage the waters to pass through your cervix from your womb, if this cannot be seen easily.
You won’t have this examination if it is obvious that your waters have already broken.
So what happens after my waters have broken?
It depends on what else is happening! If you are already in labour and all is well with you and your baby, you’ll continue to be supported by your midwife. They’ll note down when the waters broke and keep an eye on the colour of the waters, but as it’s a part of the process of labour and birth, nothing much changes.
You may find the power of your contractions changes – they may feel more intense and you may feel like baby is much lower down.
If your waters break before you go into labour and all is well with you and baby, you’ll be advised to stay at home or go back home and see if labour starts. Most women go into labour on their own within 24 hours. If this doesn’t happen your midwife will offer to induce labour and you’ll be advised to give birth in hospital, if you’re not there already.
This is because your waters breaking before labour starts increases your baby’s risk of infection.
While you’re waiting to be induced (or if you choose not to be induced), your midwife will ask you to take your temperature every 4 hours while you’re awake. This will help you find out if you’re developing a temperature.
What should I avoid doing after my waters have broken?
Not much changes – keeping yourself well fed and hydrated is important to prepare for labour. Try out some of the active birth positions at home as discussed in our blog and as we discuss in our classes.
You can have a shower or bath, neither will increase the risk of infection.
You are advised to avoid sex after your waters break – so stick with a cuddle instead!
If I’m waiting at home or in hospital, what should I be aware of?
Contact your midwife if:
- you develop a high temperature (around 37.5 degrees Celsius)
- you notice any change in the colour or smell of your vaginal discharge
- you feel your baby’s movements have changed or they are moving less. You should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour and during labour. Find out more about your baby’s movements.