What it feels like when your water breaks

Sometimes it's a gush. In other cases, it's just a trickle. Learn how to tell if your water has broken, and what to do next.

Pregnant woman on the phone with doctor
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What does it mean when your water breaks?

In your uterus, a fluid-filled membrane called the amniotic sac surrounds and protects your growing baby. When your "water breaks," it means this sac has ruptured. At that point, labor will usually follow soon after (if it's not already under way).

Whether your pregnancy is full term or you still have a few weeks to go, your water breaking is a reason to call your doctor or midwife. If it's too early for you to deliver, your provider might give you medicine to prevent an infection and another to help your baby's lungs mature.

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What does it feel like when your water breaks?

The feeling of water breaking is different for everyone. Some moms have a little bit of wetness in their vagina or a slight trickle of fluid. "It was so slow that I thought it was sweat or normal discharge," one BabyCenter mom said.

Another confused the feeling with peeing. "I seriously thought I had wet my pants. I went to the bathroom three times and changed my clothes before realizing that I wasn't suffering from pregnancy incontinence. It didn't happen like in the movies."

Sometimes a slight pop precedes the fluid. "I felt a popping sensation, followed by an immediate gush of very warm fluid that soaked through my pants. A little more would leak out every time I moved," according to one mom.

For others, the water gushed out – either in their hospital bed or in a more surprising setting, like all over the kitchen floor. One BabyCenter mom said her water breaking felt like "a 5-gallon bucket of water had spilled out. With the next five contractions, more water came gushing out." Another said, "It was like someone put a hose on full blast between my legs."

The moms' reactions to that rush of water also varied. One called it the "weirdest feeling!" Another proclaimed it the "grossest feeling ever."

Water breaking: When can it happen?

Usually, your water will break when you're at full-term – weeks 39 to 40 of your pregnancy. It often ruptures within 24 hours of when you start labor, or during labor. When your water breaks before your 37th week of pregnancy, it's called preterm premature rupture of the membranes (pPROM). When it ruptures after 37 weeks but before active labor, it's called premature (pre-labor) rupture of membranes.

How to tell if your water is leaking slowly

Sometimes women wonder if their water is leaking. A trickle of fluid can feel like your water is breaking, but other things can cause this feeling, too.

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Many women have a change in vaginal discharge during pregnancy. That discharge can be clear like fluid, or have a pink tinge closer to delivery. A yeast infection can also increase the amount of discharge you produce.

What you're feeling could also be urine. The weight of your baby pressing on your bladder can cause you to leak, especially when you're moving around.

How to tell if your water broke or you peed

It can be hard to tell the difference, especially if you haven't leaked urine before. You may get clues from its appearance and smell. Urine will typically have a yellowish color and a distinctive acidic smell. Amniotic fluid often doesn't have an odor, or it has a slightly sweet smell.

You might try putting on a clean panty liner and sitting or lying down for about 30 minutes. If the panty liner is wet at the end of that time, it could be amniotic fluid. If it's dry, the cause is more likely urine or discharge.

If you're not 100 percent sure what type of fluid you're leaking, check with your provider. Leaking urine is sometimes a sign of a bladder infection.

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At the hospital, your doctor or midwife can test the fluid's pH and look at it under a microscope to see if it is amniotic fluid. If so, you'll likely be admitted to the hospital, even if you aren't having contractions yet.

What is an amniotomy?

Amniotomy, also called artificial rupture of membranes (AROM), is a procedure your provider might use once you're in labor to break your water if it hasn't happened naturally.

Usually, the doctor or midwife won't do this procedure until the mom's cervix is sufficiently thinned and dilated, and the baby's head is way down in her pelvis. It's not necessary to speed up labor, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and it can increase the risk of infection. If you think you'd prefer to allow this to happen naturally in labor, let your provider know.

Many women won't need to have their water broken. But doing so may increase the strength of contractions and it may speed labor along.

During amniotomy, your provider inserts a thin plastic hook into your vagina and makes a small hole in the amniotic membrane to release the fluid. You shouldn't feel much other than a little rush of fluid.

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What to do if your water breaks at home

If you think your water has broken, call your doctor or midwife or head to the hospital where you plan to deliver. Your provider might want you to wait at home a little longer to see if your water really has broken, or have you come in right away for tests.

What it means when your water breaks before 37 weeks

About three out of every 100 pregnant women experience preterm water breaking. Once your water breaks, delivery is likely imminent. Your baby could be born prematurely if you haven't yet reached your 37th week. There is also a risk of infection, which can be dangerous to both mom and baby.

What happens next depends on your stage of pregnancy. If you're past the 34-week mark and you have no signs of an infection, your provider might let your pregnancy continue but monitor you closely.

Before the 34th week, your provider might try to delay delivery with medication until you've received a full dose of steroids to help mature your baby's lungs, and possibly another medication to protect the baby's brain. You may also get antibiotics to prevent an infection.

If labor doesn't begin spontaneously and you and your baby appear well with no signs of infection or fetal distress, your provider is likely to manage you conservatively, monitoring you and your baby closely for a limited period of time.

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When to call your provider about your water breaking 

Even if you're not sure, it's safest to call your doctor or midwife or go to the hospital. Your provider can let you know definitively whether your water has broken, and tell you what you need to do next.

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Undated. Premature rupture of membranes (PROM)/preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). a new window [Accessed December 2021].

Mahdy H. 2021. Amniotomy. StatPearls. a new window [Accessed December 2021].

Mayoclinic.orgOpens a new window. 2021. Water breaking: Understand this sign of labor. a new window [Accessed December 2021]

National Library of Medicine. 2020. Premature rupture of membranes. a new window [Accessed December 2021]

NHS. Undated. Signs your labour is starting. a new window [Accessed December 2021]

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. 2019. When your waters break prematurely. a new window [Accessed December 2021]

Sanford Health. 2017. How to know if your water breaks. a new window [Accessed December 2021]

Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson is a freelance health and lifestyle writer based in Rhode Island. When she’s not busy writing, Watson loves to travel, try new cuisines, and attend as many concerts, shows, and plays as she can fit into her busy schedule.