We’ve all seen the TV version: a rush of water bursts between the mom-to-be’s legs (at the most inconvenient time, no doubt), she rushes to the hospital, and voila — a baby is born! Luckily for those of us that are worried about causing a scene (and a mess) in public, this isn’t the way that labor usually begins. The doulas are here to answer your pressing questions about what to expect if and when your water breaks.


When will it happen?

Only about 10 to 15 percent of labors begin with the rupture of the amniotic sac, which is the bag of amniotic fluid that cushions the baby in utero. Women whose membranes rupture before labor begins are likely to start having contractions within 12-24 hours. For the majority of women whose membranes rupture, labor is already underway — which means that you’ll likely have plenty of warning before it happens.

Sometimes under certain conditions, your provider may rupture your membranes (artificial rupture of membranes) to induce or augment labor. After this, you will probably notice your contractions becoming stronger and faster.

Rarely, the membranes don’t rupture before the baby is born, leading to the baby born en caul — inside of the intact amniotic sac. En caul births are extremely rare, but more common in preterm births.


What does it feel and look like?

Use the COAT acronym (Color, Odor, Amount, Time) to make note of the amniotic fluid before you call your provider.

  • Color: Amniotic fluid, versus discharge or urine, is typically colorless. Small streaks of blood in the fluid are normal, but if the entire fluid is bloody, it’s important to call your provider. If the fluid is tinged with green or brown, it could be meconium (the baby’s first bowel movement). Call your ob-gyn or midwife to find out what they recommend.
  • Odor: The fluid is typically odorless, although it may smell a little bit sweet.
  • Amount: For some women, it’s a Hollywood-worthy gush; for others, it’s more like a trickle. (Read some testimonials of moms talking about what it feels like here!)
  • Time: Note the time so that you and your provider are aware of how much time has passed since your membranes ruptured.


What should I do next?

Call your provider. If you are before 37 weeks, suspect meconium, have tested positive for Group B streptococcus, or have gone 24 hours since your membranes ruptured without starting contractions, your provider might recommend that you come into the hospital. In the meantime, it’s best to avoid anything that might introduce bacteria into the uterus. Sexual intercourse is off-limits, and take extra care to wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.

While it might sound scary, having your water break is a completely normal part of the birth process, and knowing what to expect can ease your mind.

Moms out there: did your water break before or during labor? What was it like? Leave us a comment below!