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What Causes Your Water to Break When You're Pregnant?

I live in Charleston, South Carolina with my husband and two children—both of whom were born after my water broke.

Baby Ready to Enter the World

My first child was born on her due date, which is a rare occurrence as only about 5% of babies share this punctuality. It was exactly twelve o'clock noon when my water broke, and my daughter announced her desire to enter this world. Somehow I knew to stay home from work that day—sort of a sixth sense. The slow trickle of amniotic fluid gave me time to call everyone, pack my bags, and get to the hospital in plenty of time before contractions even started.

We always smile back at my daughter's precise timing which turned out to be a foreshadowing of her unbending personality. But was it really her strong will that caused my water to break, or something more scientific? There are several factors that may cause a pregnant woman's water to break.

Survey for Women Who Have Experienced Childbirth

Water Breaking During Labor

In most pregnancies, the membranes are ruptured naturally during labor, once you are in the hospital. As contractions progress, and the baby moves towards the birth canal, the amniotic sac is pressured to break. In most cases, the contractions will rupture the sac, and you will just feel a warm gush of water.

If you are having an induced labor, it is likely that your doctor will artificially break the membrane, using an amniotic hook. Don't worry, though—it does not hurt. With my second child, labor was induced, and there was no pain associated with the thin plastic hook used to break the membranes. The process actually helped my labor progress.

You can check out this article to learn some of the possible signs of going into labor.

What Causes Water to Break Early?

The early rupture of the amniotic sac before the onset of labor is known as premature rupture of membranes (PROM). According to MedlinePlus, the exact cause of PROM is unknown. However, there are a few potential risk factors.

  • Infections in the uterus or cervix. This also includes infections within the amniotic sac membrane.
  • Excessive stretching of the amniotic sac. This is likely due to the presence of too much fluid or carrying more than one baby, which puts more pressure on the sac.
  • Smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke.
  • Previous surgeries or biopsies on the cervix.
  • Water breaking early is more prevalent if you have had previous cases of PROM.

What Are the Signs of Water Breaking?

You may potentially have difficulty recognizing if your water breaks. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Many women report hearing or feeling a popping sensation. They may feel a sense of pressure followed by relief as the membrane ruptures.
  • If you have a slow trickle, you may mistake your water breaking for urine. Amniotic is fluid is generally odorless, it may have a slight sweet scent, if any scent at all. The fluid is typically clear, though possibly tinged with blood. Don't confuse it with vaginal discharge, which is usually more milky in color.
  • According to Dr. Yvonne Bohn, you can expect a constant flow of roughly three cups of fluid. How intense the flow is depends on whether the membrane had a tear or ruptured.
  • Contractions usually follow within 12 to 24 hours, if they haven't already begun when your water broke. However, this won't happen in cases of PROM or PPROM.

Is There a Risk of Infection After Your Water Breaks?

"If your water breaks, it can increase the risk for infection. It's important to speak with your doctor if you think this may have happened and to get examined," says Dr. Serena H. Chen, an expert from MedAnswers.com. "They can do a vaginal exam and/or a sonogram to see if there are any issues. If everything appears fine, but you continue to have symptoms of leaking, cramping, or spotting, you may need to get checked out again."

Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM) Is Not Very Common

According to WhattoExpect, fewer than 15% of pregnant women experience PROM, which would be sometime within 24 hours before serious labor begins at 37-42 weeks. This should not be confused with preterm premature rupture, which will be discussed later. The experience of water breaking is different for everyone. Some will have a slow trickle or discharge while others will get that Hollywood-style gush. That is relatively rare though. According to Dr. Ward Murdock, the president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, only 10 to 15 percent of women will have their membranes rupture before going into labor. Of those, only a small fraction will experience a heavy gush of fluid.

In the case of PROM, the membranes tear or burst as a woman's body prepares for labor. The mysterious chemical chain reaction that causes labor to begin has been linked to brain signals from the fetus. So, yes, maybe it was my daughter controlling the bridge that day! When labor starts, the baby's position will shift downward, causing additional pressure inside the amniotic sac. The increased pressure may cause the sac to pop like a balloon or, as in most cases, to tear just a bit, allowing for the leak or trickle. In either situation, if you suspect that your water has broken, call your doctor. Once the safety of the amniotic sac has been breached, there is opportunity for infection.

Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM)

An early rupturing of the membrane (before 37 weeks) is the main cause of one out of four premature births. Once the amniotic sac breaks, there is a risk of infection, and labor cannot be delayed for long. The PPROM Foundation has identified the following risk factors and possible causes for the complication of preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM.

  • Prior history of PPROM.
  • Inflammation or infection of the amniotic membrane.
  • Collagen vascular disorders.
  • Intense physical trauma.
  • Being underweight with poor nutrition.
  • Urinary tract infection.
  • Short cervical length.
  • Genital tract infection.
  • Vaginal bleeding during more than one trimester.
  • Smoking.
  • Weak or injured cervix.
  • Issues such as twin to twin transfusion syndrome.

Pregnancies Too Close Together May Cause Water to Break Early

The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a report in 2010 that showed an increased risk of PPROM for women who became pregnant again soon after childbirth. This risk was reported highest for black women who became pregnant three to six months after childbirth. Women who waited at least 18 months were less likely to have the complication. The report concluded that a woman's body needs adequate time for full recovery between births.

When Will My Water Break?

Most women do not experience the complications of PROM or PPROM. You can benefit, however, by being informed of the risks and causes, and by following general instructions from your obstetrician. If your water does break early or unexpectedly, stay calm and contact your doctor. On the flip side, if your labor begins, but your water does not break, don't panic. In most cases, a woman's water does not break until she is well into real labor. By that time, hopefully, you will already be at the hospital or in the presence of the appropriate health care provider.

Sources

Harding, A. (2010, March 02). Can delaying pregnancy cut early water break risk? From Reuters.

Liff, N. J. (2015, February 27). Why Water Breaks Prematurely in Some Pregnant Women. From What to Expect.

PPROM Facts. From The PPROM Foundation.

Premature rupture of membranes. From MedlinePlus.

Robock, K. (2018, January 03). What to expect when your water breaks. From Today's Parents.

Vengrow, B. (2018, February 14). Worried About Your Water Breaking? Here's What You Need to Know. From Parents.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Lynn on August 25, 2018:

Broke with baby #1 on its own at 33 weeks, one big gush second was broken during induction at 39 weeks, kept flowing here and there.

Lauren on July 19, 2018:

My water broke at 36 weeks 4 days. I woke up in the morning walked into my kitchen and it slowly started. Sat on a towel on the way to the hospital and then was induced. Today I’m at 34 weeks 4 days with my second son

Jessica on February 05, 2018:

Have a good.?m pregnant with my 5th child had to have the other 4induced not by choice.someone told me it's impossible to have an natural birth if you have been induced that often and I'm wondering if that's true or not?really badly would want to have an natural birth for a chance

Christine on October 25, 2017:

I'm four months pregnant my water is breaking

Rebecca on September 26, 2017:

I am 36+2 with baby #2 and think I may have a slow leak... waiting to go to doc.

With baby #1 I was post term... water broke like it does in the movies - but at least I was at home. It was a HUGE gush, that just continued for hours. I was told toward the end I had a lot of amniotic fluid, so that is probably why it continued. They changed my soaked bed sheets at the hospital 3-4 times before telling me no more... and then used the hook ON TOP of all of this to help the rest come out. It was insane - never ending fluid. I am so worried it will happen again like that (at work!), but on the other hand, at least I never had to question if it broke or not! :)

Takia Smith on September 02, 2017:

On my 5th pregnancy . My water has never broken on its own . It was always done at the hospital. For whatever reason Ive never experienced that.

Cc on August 28, 2017:

Im 38 weeks and water has not broken yet at 3cm so ready for this life changing experience. Hurting but patient. Due date is September 10th.

MrsH on October 28, 2014:

My water broke at 29wks with baby #3. We are now having a surprise baby #4 and I constantly wonder as the days tick closer if it will happen again. I feel like any info on what the odds are or preventative maintenance are hard to find. I still have no idea why it happened with baby#3. Just waiting! Were 23wks now!

Jen on August 10, 2014:

Im 38 weeks and am hoping my water breaks soon. Not to rush him out or anything but because our son is already over 10 pounds. Dr apt tommorrow hopefully things go good

Deb Welch on September 17, 2013:

Good Work. Didn't know anything about water breaki ng. My daughter was late by 2 1/2 wks. - she was too large for the birth canal - the doctor must have broke the water - I was in labor for 12 hours with her. Useful and Interesting.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on August 22, 2012:

Hi, shana

My advice is to wait. Your baby will come when he or she is ready, and your body will let you know. My son was induced at 38 weeks, and I regret that decision. You are almost there!

shana on August 21, 2012:

How can i break my water i am 38 weeks i can't go anywhere and i want to do it know

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 07, 2012:

Thanks, theclevercat. Yes, still a little scary, but at least the odds are against complications.

Thanks, Teresa. Three boys! They are a different breed, aren't they?

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on March 06, 2012:

Been there done that three times. Only with my third boy did my water break before hard labour. Well written and informative article.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on March 05, 2012:

Wow! I had no idea about this. If I was looking for information about the water breaking, this would be where I would stop. It's still pretty scary, but much less so.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 05, 2012:

Thanks, Alissa. I do remember the water breaking being exciting, especially since it was my first child, but I can see how inconvenient and embarrassing it could be as well!

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 05, 2012:

Thanks, cclitgirl. Yes, sometimes the unknown is more scary than the truth.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 05, 2012:

Thanks, teaches12345. The hook sounds terrible doesn't it? Even a picture of it doesn't help one feel better, but hopefully our personal accounts will!

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 05, 2012:

Thanks for reading, Debby. It really is a phenomena, isn't it?

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 05, 2012:

We were against the odds on this one, weren't we? I wonder how similar our two are. Mine is very high-maintenance, but also very interesting, to say the least!

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on March 05, 2012:

Very useful and interesting hub! I never got to experience my water breaking naturally because both of my pregnancies were induced. This one will be most helpful to other moms out there. Great job - voted up!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

Very informative hub. It also can help first-time moms to put their anxieties more at ease. Voted up.

Dianna Mendez on March 04, 2012:

This is a great article for all first time moms who have concerns. My doctor had to use the hook, and you are right, there was no pain. Very informative hub.

Debby Bruck on March 04, 2012:

Interesting notes on this birthing phenomena. Thanks so much. Debby

cardelean from Michigan on March 04, 2012:

Great information. My water broke with my son on his due date as well (July 4th). I had to smile at your comment about your daughter's unbending personality because my son is the same way, and a firecracker to boot! I'm passing this along to my sister in law who is waiting for the arrival of her first child. She was due four days ago, maybe reading this will help that stubborn little stinker come out! :)

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 04, 2012:

K9keystrokes - I was surprised, too, at the statistics, finding myself in only 10% for PROM. Not sure what the statistic is for those 10% - how many in the "safety" of their own homes, and how many at the checkout in Target! Maybe my poll will give some interesting results.

India Arnold from Northern, California on March 04, 2012:

I'm betting this information will help pregnant women (and couples)better understand the water breaking process. I find the percentages surrounding when and where this occurs fascinating, as most notably one's water would break in very inconvenient locations(if you believe what is shown on TV). ;)

HubHugs~

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 04, 2012:

Thanks, Brittanytodd! It is a weird experience to think about - Where will I be when my water breaks??? But, chances are, it won't splash out in some crazy place outside of a hospital or your home. And if it does, well, it might make an interesting story!

Brittany Kennedy from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on March 04, 2012:

This is so useful! I am not pregnant or have had any children (yet), but this is one of the things I never understood. Great work! Voted up, shared, etc.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on March 04, 2012:

Thank you, dinkan53! I wanted to create an easy-to-read Hub that discussed these issues in plain terms, as opposed to some of the academic journals you have to dig through! Thanks for voting and sharing.

dinkan53 from India on March 04, 2012:

Very useful one for the couples waiting for their junior to come out. This hub will clear the doubts of them the break of water from the membrane. Sharing with my bookmarking sites and rated as useful.