There's a lot of misconceptions, and ideas based on those misconceptions, about the beginning stages of labor. Everyone has an opinion on how long to wait before going to the hospital, how to tell the difference between false contractions and actual contractions, and so on. And all that advice — good, bad, or indifferent — can impact the choices a woman makes once her labor begins. So it's best to know the myths about your water breaking way before your labor and delivery show gets on the road, so you can separate fact from fiction and make the best possible decisions for you and your soon-to-be baby.
Of all the things you might've heard about your water eventually breaking, the most notable and false is that once the water breaks, the baby is coming out within minutes, if not seconds. Thanks to television and movie depictions, this ideation is accepted as truth. But according to Today's Parent, it can take contractions anywhere from 12-24 hours to begin once your water breaks. So for most women, their childbirth experience will be nothing like the stories depicted on screen Dr. Allison Hill, co-author of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth tells Parents that expecting mothers and fathers shouldn't "reach for your hospital bag just yet" when a pregnant woman's water breaks, saying, again, that active labor could still be a day or two away.
And there are other misconceptions about your water breaking that every pregnant woman should know, too, and then completely ignore.
Even though it's called "water breaking," there's no water involved. It's actually amniotic fluid, which Sutter Health defines "a clear, odorless liquid, which surrounds and protects the baby in the uterus and provides a protective barrier from the outside environment." Basically, the bag of "waters" is a cushion that becomes unnecessary when labor begins, so once it "breaks" your baby no longer has that barrier and is free to exit.
So, the gush of amniotic fluid, and accompanying reaction from mom-to-be, that we've all seen depicted in movies can be a truthful representation of the beginning of labor for some women. However, most pregnant women don't really notice their water breaking. In fact, many women can mistake it for an unfortunate trickle of urine and go about their day.
So the loud gush of water, however dramatic, isn't as likely as an unassuming wetness that increases over time and during the phase of pregnancy when vaginal fluids have already increased. Lydia Sims, M.D., an OB-GYN with Banner Health in Mesa, Arizona, tells SELF that "many times it's just a trickle of fluid. Sims wrote, "You put on a pair of underwear, those get wet, you put on another pair, those get wet—your underwear never stays dry." The Mayo Clinic suggests contacting your doctor if you're not sure.
Not always. IN fact, in many instances contractions begin first. Paul du Treil, M.D., Director of Maternal and Child Health at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, tells the website BabyGaga.com you could feel some cramping, adding, "It may not be painful, but your whole stomach will tense and feel hard." This is an early sign of contractions.
Those early stomach pains could mean your baby wants to escape the amniotic fluid bag and your water is about to break. So pay attention to your body, because the sensations are different for everyone.
Sometimes the water breaks long before a due date. In a "typical" pregnancy, labor begins when the lungs have matured. According to Parents, if you're before 37 weeks and your water breaks, you're considered preterm and your doctor may try to halt the labor progress via medicine. A study in PLoS Medicine found that those whose water broke between 34-37 weeks may still benefit from waiting it out (as opposed to being induced to offset infection). The bottom line: it breaks when it wants to, but that doesn't always mean it's "go" time.
Yvonne Bohn, MD, co-author of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, tells Parents that, "Once it starts flowing, the amniotic fluid will continue leaking until all 600-800 milliliters (or roughly 2 1/2-3 cups) of it empties out." If you notice leakage or wetness and you're soaking through sanitary pads, your water probably broke.
If your water breaks and your labor doesn't progress as it should, your doctor may need to intervene to keep both you and baby safe. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you're told an intervention, or induction, is necessary.
There are conflicting messages about bathing after your water breaks. The consensus seems to be that an estimated 8-10 percent of births happen when the waters break before labor begins. To minimize risk of infection, it's suggested you choose showers over baths, stay clear of vaginal exams, and avoid having sex.