Worried about your waters breaking?

If you're stressing out about when your waters break, don't worry. Our midwife answers your questions on this stage of your labour...

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1) When will my waters break?

Q: At what point in labour will my waters break, and what if they don’t?

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A: The bag of waters, or amniotic sac, that surrounds your baby can break at any time during labour and sometimes even before. But it’s more likely to happen during labour, probably at the peak of a contraction. Think of it like a big balloon full of water that stretches and relaxes – eventually it’ll go pop!

If your waters break beforehand, you’ll probably go into labour within 24hours. If this doesn’t happen, your midwife will recommend that your labour be induced, to reduce the risk of infection to your baby. Ultimately, this is your choice though and you may prefer to wait a little bit longer to see if labour starts on its own.

Occasionally, the waters don’t break and the baby is born in the bag (known as ‘in the caul’) which is actually supposed to be lucky.

2) How long until the contractions start after your waters have broken?

Q. In my antenatal class the midwife said sometimes the waters can break but labour still doesn’t start. How long is it before the contractions normally begin?

A. Around 60 per cent of women go into labour within 24 hours of their waters breaking. Most maternity units advise that if you aren’t in labour within this time, then you’ll need to have your labour induced because of the risk of infection. Ultimately it’s your choice, but if you choose to wait longer you’ll be advised to give birth somewhere with access to a special care baby unit, in case your baby has an infection when he’s born.

If your waters break but you’re not having contractions, avoid having sex. You’ll be asked to monitor your temperature for signs of infection and report any change in smell or colour of any fluids you lose to your midwife. But remember the majority of women find their waters don’t break until they’re in established labour with regular contractions.

3) What are the chances of my waters breaking in public?

Q. I’m so horrified by the thought of my waters breaking while I’m outside that I’m considering staying at home for the last few weeks of my pregnancy. Am I being overcautious?

A. This is such a common worry. With a first baby, the head tends to move low into the pelvis (engaging) towards the end of the pregnancy, acting as a plug and preventing a huge gush of water if the bag of fluid breaks. Realistically, it’s more likely to be a trickle of fluid and often it’s hard to tell whether it’s amniotic fluid or urine. You’ll probably feel more like you’ve leaked a bit of wee than anything. If it makes you feel more confident you could wear a sanitary pad towards the end of your pregnancy, but please don’t become a recluse as most women find their waters don’t break until they are in the throes of labour anyhow!

4) Hindwaters? Forewaters?

Q. My sister says her hind waters broke before her forewaters. I’m confused – how many waters are there?

A. Your baby is in one bag of water (amniotic fluid), but as he moves lower down into the pelvis the bag can get squashed so that some water is in front of your baby’s head while the rest of the water is behind him. The water in front of your baby’s head is often referred to as the forewaters and the water behind it, the hind waters. Your sister had
a hole in the hind waters first, and it really doesn’t matter in which order your waters break, except that sometimes with a hind water leak it can be difficult to determine whether it’s discharge or urine rather than fluid. Contact your midwife if you think your waters are breaking and need confirmation, and she’ll be able to let you know for sure.

5) I’m worried about my waters breaking in public

Q: Now I’m in my third trimester I’m completely preoccupied with the thought of my waters breaking in public. How common is this?

A: Splashing amniotic fluid all over a supermarket aisle or GP’s floor has to be one of the most common fears for women at the end of their pregnancy. But I can reassure you, I’ve hardly ever heard of it happening like this, and here’s why. Towards the end of pregnancy, your baby’s head engages, or moves lower into the pelvis. This acts as a kind of plug, so that even if your waters broke, the fluid would trickle out rather than gushing.

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The reality is most women aren’t sure if it’s their bladder or the waters that are leaking as it’s not that obvious. Most women’s waters break during labour under the pressure of a contraction. This is more like a balloon of water being repeatedly squeezed and stretched, and the chances are that you won’t be out shopping at that stage. When you do go out near your due date, wear a sanitary towel to give you confidence.

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