As you approach the final weeks of your pregnancy, you’re probably on high alert for any signs that your labor is starting. Your water breaking is potentially one of the most noticeable indicators, and it’s understandable if you’re worried about recognizing it.
It doesn’t necessarily happen as it does in movies and TV. While some mothers-to-be do experience a large gush of amniotic fluid, it’s just as likely to happen as a trickle, or as something in between. It’s also quite unlikely for your water to break before you’re already in labor – that only happens in about 13 percent of pregnancies.
Seeing as you might not have a big splash to go by, it’s fair if you’re asking yourself, “How to know if my water broke?” By following our simple recommendations, you may be able to work out if your water has actually broken. It might be something else that occurs towards the end of your pregnancy, such as urine leaking due to pregnancy incontinence.
I’ll Get My C.O.A.T.
When you think that your water might have broken, it is helpful to take note of a few things, so that you can tell your doctor or other healthcare professional. This can help them to work out what you should do next. You can remember this by using the mnemonic C.O.A.T.:
- Color – what is the color of the fluid? Is it clear, straw colored, white, green, or brown?
- Odor – does it smell like urine, bleach, or something else?
- Amount – how much fluid came out?
- Time – when did it happen?
An easy way to check is to stand up. The release of amniotic fluid can feel similar to urination that you can’t stop. If you notice the fluid comes out more when you stand up compared to sitting, this can be a good indicator that your water has broken. The increased pressure placed on the amniotic sac by standing can force more fluid out.
… Or Lie Down
One of the other simplest ways for you to work out if your water has broken is to put on fresh underwear, and a sanitary pad or panty liner. Lie down for around half an hour, and then stand up and head to the bathroom to see if the pad is wet or dry.
If your water has broken, then the fluid will gather in your vagina as you lie down, and will make the pad wet. If your pad is wet, then it’s quite likely, though not definite, that your water has broken.
While you are lying down, it can be helpful to pay attention to your baby’s movements. If all is well, whether or not your waters have broken, then your baby should be moving the same as usual.
If the Pad Is Dry
If you lie down for thirty minutes, and then find that your pad is dry when you go to check it, then it’s unlikely that your water has broken yet. What you felt could have been urine leaking from your bladder, or the mucus plug being released in preparation for labor.
If the Pad Is Wet
If the pad is wet, then there’s a good chance that your water has broken, but it’s still not a definite.
First, check the color of the fluid. Amniotic fluid is around 99 percent water, so it should be either clear, slightly straw colored (lighter than urine), or possibly a little pink. If it is a darker yellow, it’s probably urine. If it is whiter or thicker, then it’s quite likely to be mucus.
Next, try smelling the fluid. If your water has broken, then it should smell slightly sweet, or a bit like bleach – these are the normal smells for amniotic fluid. If it smells like pee, then chances are that that’s all it is.
If you are approaching or have passed your due date, then there’s a chance that the fluid will have some of your baby’s first poo, or meconium, in it. This can make the fluid go somewhat green. But if you notice a lot of green or brown lumps of meconium, or if you notice a lot of blood, this could be a sign that your baby is in distress. You should contact your healthcare professional immediately.
If You’re Still Not Sure
If in doubt, the best course of action is always the safest one. Contact your doctor or midwife. They may have some other suggestions for how to test if your water broke or if it’s something else. Once you’ve taken note of the color, odor, amount, and when it happened, it will help them to determine whether or not you should make your way to the hospital.
Once you’re at the hospital, there are a couple of common tests that they can perform to see if your water has broken. The first is a vaginal exam using a piece of litmus paper. If the paper changes to the correct color (usually blue), this is a sign that it is amniotic fluid rather than urine or something else. They may also use a speculum in order to see more clearly if your cervix has dilated, as most women’s water doesn’t break until they are around 9 inches dilated.
The other test they may perform will be to take a sample of the fluid and examine it under a microscope. The amniotic fluid will be mixed with estrogen, and when it dries, it will show a distinctive fern-like pattern, and so is called ‘ferning’. If they find ferning, then your water has broken.
How to Know If My Water Broke
While it’s relatively uncommon, there’s a reasonable chance that your water may break before you have gone into labor, and it can sometimes be hard to tell whether or not that is what has actually happened. If the liquid is clear or a light straw color, smells sweet or bleachy, or it comes out in a noticeable gush, it’s quite likely that your water has broken. In this case, you should grab your partner or doula, contact your healthcare provider, and make your way to the hospital.