In the movies, scenes where a woman’s water breaks are typically quite dramatic. And, in real life – it can be that way too – water splashing everywhere – and not because you just wet your pants!
However, there are other ways that water breaks– many of which are more like a slow leak or seep than a big gush. It’s important to know all of the signs, and what to do, because guess what – you’re going into labor!
What to Expect When Your Water Breaks
First-timers may expect their water to break in a gush, but that’s not always the case. For example:
- Our patient, Katie, was taking a walk when she felt a small “pop” and then felt a very slow trickle of water.
- Patient Marie woke up in the middle of the night with a husband convinced she had wet the bed, but it was her waters breaking.
- Patient Justine was shopping in a grocery store when she felt that her underwear was a little damp. She was so embarrassed – imagining it was urinary incontinence. After going to the bathroom – and then finishing her store trip with mildly increased “dampness,” she suspected it was a slow leak and contacted her midwife to be sure.
Then, of course, there are gushers. These women wind up with a bed soaked with amniotic fluid, the same splash you see in the movie (often as they bend to sit on a toilet or to dress/undress) – and they know without a doubt that things are about to change.
Whatever the case may be when your water breaks, you’ll know it’s the “real deal” because the warm water that seeps out does not smell like urine.
You May Feel Immediate Contractions – You May Not
For some women, particularly repeat moms, the heavier contractions are a pretty immediate follow-up to the water breaking. First-timers – or those with small, slow leak – may be surprised that it takes quite a while – maybe even until the next day – before labor really gets going.
Step One: Call your healthcare provider
Once the amniotic sac breaks, your baby is slightly more susceptible to bacteria. Thus, the medical world doesn’t like women to go much longer than 24-hours after waters break to an active labor state. Calling them puts the labor/delivery team on alert, and they’ll want to see you pretty soon – if not immediately.
Healthcare providers vary in their approach; some want a mother to come into the hospital or birthing center immediately so they can monitor you; others are content to let healthy women with a healthy pregnancy labor a little longer at home before coming in. In either case, they’ll tell you what to do next.
Step Two: Alternate walking & resting
Walking is a great way to facilitate gravity and your baby’s efforts to move further down the birth canal. It can also provide a bit of distraction and relief from contractions. Unless contractions are five- or four-minutes apart, last for a minute or so – and continue like that for an hour (the 5-1-1 and 4-1-1 rule) – you can go about life as usual.
You’re going to have a big job ahead of you so as excited as you may be, the early stages of labor – when contractions are milder and further apart – offer the last opportunity for you to sleep/nap/rest up for the harder, and more demanding later stages.
Step Three: Get your birthing bag and gear in the car
Hopefully, your birth preparations and plan included having a birthing bag ready by now – if not, this is the procrastinator’s sign to get that stuff in order and into the car.
- Copies of your paperwork (hospital paperwork, insurance card and photo ID)
- A few copies of your birth plan
- Copies/printouts of your favorite “labor resources” from your childbirth education classes or other books/websites so you can refresh yourself on the labor basics and support recommendations
- A robe/slippers
- Comfortable pjs and clothes for your return
- Lip balm (your lips can feel dry and chapped throughout the labor journey)
- Lotion and/or massage oil
- Your favorite toiletries in travel kit size
- Spray bottle (it can feel good to have someone mist you when you’re really hot/sweaty)
- Some books, magazines, music, pre-loaded movies/podcasts etc.
- Eye mask and ear plugs (hospitals are bright, busy and noisy sometimes)
- Underwear/nursing bra
- Maternity pads (your own may be softer and more comfy than the hospital’s)
- Baby’s car seat