Your unborn baby lies in an amniotic sac of fluid or ‘waters’. ‘Waters breaking’ means that the sac has ruptured or broken. Your waters normally break around the time labour is due but in around 2% of pregnancies they break early for various reasons (see below).
If your waters break before your baby has reached full term (37 weeks), the medical name for it is preterm prelabour rupture of the membranes, or PPROM. If this happens early, before the contractions start, it can (but does not always) trigger early labour.
This page deals with waters breaking early before 37 weeks. Read here about what to expect when your waters break AFTER 37 weeks.
Have my waters broken early (PPROM)?
If your waters have broken early, you will experience it as a trickle or a gush of water from your vagina. It is likely to continue leaking once it has started If it isn't too heavy you can use a sanitary towel to catch it. This will also allow you to see what colour it is, which will be helpful information for health professionals. It may be pinkish if it contains some blood, or it may be clear. If it greenish or brown go to the maternity unit as soon as possible. If it is heavy, you may need to use a towel.
Phone your maternity unit immediately for advice.
What are the risks if my waters break early (PPROM)?
If your waters break early the risks and treatment are dependent on the stage of pregnancy you are at.
- You are at risk of going into labour prematurely – the health risks for the baby of early birth are greater the younger they are.
- If you do not go into labour, you and the baby are at risk of infection.
The doctors have to balance these two considerations. If the waters have broken because of infection, you and the baby have a high risk of getting the infection and you may need to deliver sooner to prevent this.
If the waters have broken but there is no infection currently present, you and the baby are still at risk but the immediate risk is lesser and your treatment will depend on your stage of pregnancy.
If you are under 24 weeks of pregnancy and the baby is born, sadly, it is unlikely the baby will survive.
What will happen if my waters break early (PPROM)?
You are likely to have an internal examination. This will allow the doctor to look at your cervix and check:
- if the leaking fluid is amniotic fluid
- if it is changing in preparation for labour
- to check for infection by taking a swab.
You might have an ultrasound scan to estimate the amount of fluid left around your baby.
If only a very small amount of amniotic fluid leaks, it is not always easy to be sure whether your waters have broken.
- You may be advised to wear a pad and stay in hospital for a few hours to monitor the situation.
- If you go home but continue to leak fluid at home, you should return to the hospital again.
If your waters are shown to have broken, you will be advised to come into hospital for at least 48 hours. You and your unborn baby will be closely monitored for signs of infection. This will include having your temperature and pulse taken regularly, and your baby’s heart rate will also be monitored.
Going home from hospital with PPROM
If there is no infection present you may be able to go home. You will be at risk from infection however, and you will need to self-monitor by
- checking that your temperature is normal (37 °C or less) every 4–8 hours
- checking the colour of the fluid does not change by wearing a pad.
You should avoid having sexual intercourse.
Contact your doctor or midwife and return to the hospital immediately if you have:
- a raised temperature (more than 37 °C)
- flu-like symptoms (feeling hot and shivery)
- vaginal bleeding
- if the leaking fluid becomes greenish or smelly
- abdominal pain
- if you are worried that the baby is not moving as normal.
Inducing labour or premature labour with PPROM
If you are past 34 weeks the doctor will weigh up the benefits of inducing labour before the due date to avoid the risk of infection with the disadvantages of being born premature, and may make a recommendation for early delivery.
You may need to stay in a hospital that has a neonatal unit and be monitored carefully for any sign of infection. You may also be treated with antibiotics, corticosteroids and magnesium sulphate (if you are less than 30 weeks) to help prepare your baby in case the are born prematurely.
Over 80% of women who have PPROM deliver their baby within seven days of their waters breaking.
What if there are no waters left in my womb?
Your baby’s amniotic sac has to have the right amount of amniotic fluid for the pregnancy to continue normally. If there is a break in the waters your baby will continue to produce amniotic fluid.
Before 23 weeks, the baby needs ‘waters’ to be present for their lungs to develop normally. Loss of water before this can lead to severe problems with lung development that can be critical after birth. After 23 weeks your baby does not need the amniotic fluid so much, so low levels of fluid may not be a problem in itself, but if the low levels are due to your waters breaking then there is a risk of infection.
Causes of waters breaking early (PPROM)
Intrauterine infection is present in around a third of women with PPROM. In many cases however it happens without any infection being present. The reason for these cases is unclear, however it has been linked to heavy smoking (more than 10 cigarettes a day) in pregnancy
A slight increase in discharge during pregnancy is normal, especially when the weather is hot. You may find that it is a mild-smelling, milky fluid, which is fine.
- RCOG (2012) Information for you When your waters break early, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- J David, Steer P et al (2010) High risk pregnancy, management options, Elsevier Saunders
- RCOG (2006) Preterm Prelabour Rupture of Membranes, Greentop guideline 44, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- England MC, Benjamin A, Abenhaim HA (2013) Increased Risk of Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes at Early Gestational Ages among Maternal Cigarette Smokers. Am J Perinatol. 2013 Jan 17
ℹLast reviewed on October 5th, 2016. Next review date October 5th, 2019.
By Hello (not verified) on 9 Sep 2016 - 14:22
My waters broke at 15 weeks, I have been put on antibiotics to keep infections abay. which had been going great up until I reached my 22nd week , I have now experienced bleeding . what are the chances for survival ?
By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Sep 2016 - 14:30
I am so sorry to hear what you are going through in this pregnancy and what a difficult time it must be for you. It is very difficult to answer your question, I think it is important to just take each day at a time. If you are bleeding I hope that you have been to the hospital to be reviewed, if not please call the maternity unit straight away and go to hospital to be reviewed. If you would like to talk further once you have been reviewed then please do email [email protected]tommys.org or call our pregnancy line on 0800 0147 800. Take care
By Anonymous (not verified) on 7 Sep 2016 - 04:48
What is the earliest time a pregnant woman can give birth naturally? 33weeks or 37week?
By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Sep 2016 - 10:06
The normal length of pregnancy is 37-42 weeks long, a baby born during this time is referred to as term. Any time before 37 weeks the baby is premature. I hope this answers your question.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 5 Sep 2016 - 17:25
I had PPROM @ 27 wks, cervix closed. managed with antibiotics and steroid injections but sadly resulted in still birth.
SROM @ 34 wks, cervix closed. Emergency c-section to previous.
Would this happen again? Would another pregnancy be safe?
By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Sep 2016 - 10:00
I am so sorry to hear what you have been through and for the loss of your little one in your first pregnancy. It is very difficult to answer this question in brief without knowing more information and having access to your notes. I would suggest to see your GP and be referred for a preconception appointment at the hospital where your history can be reviewed and talk about having another pregnancy. You can also email us [email protected] with further information and we can discuss this in confidence.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Sep 2016 - 10:08
Thank you. I didn't know such appointments existed. We had a debrief after we lost our baby girl but nothing after our second pregnancy.
By Prasanth (not verified) on 2 Sep 2016 - 04:52
What are main reason for water broken in 18week
By Midwife @Tommys on 2 Sep 2016 - 15:52
Often the main cause of waters breaking at 18 weeks of pregnancy is infection however it can be due to the cervix being weak and sometimes a cause is never known. If this has affected you then please do know you can talk to a midwife in confidence, you can email us [email protected]
By Midwife @Tommys on 1 Sep 2016 - 12:37
If your daughter's waters broke at 32 weeks, the hospital staff will be monitoring her closely with scans and regular checks of the baby's heart rate. They will do regular blood tests to ensure no infection is developing which could trigger labour and they will allow the pregnancy to continue to term as long as mum and baby are well. Usually once the waters have gone, contractions do follow but when can be unclear!!
By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Aug 2016 - 22:25
Can head water bust by the discharge , i have in s stitched.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 27 Aug 2016 - 10:56
I am just out of hospital after treatment they told me that I would more than likely miscarriage I'm supposed to fly out on holidays next Saturday..is it safe?
By Midwife @Tommys on 1 Sep 2016 - 14:59
I am so sorry you have been ill. If your hospital has advised you that there is an increased risk of miscarriage, I would definitely advise you not to fly on Saturday. Given that you have been recently hospitalized, I am sure you can get a letter from your GP for travel insurance purposes. Remember just because there is an increased risk, it does not mean it will happen.. stay positive
By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Aug 2016 - 15:54
It sounds as if you are having the perfect management at your hospital for you and your baby.
Being given steroid injection to mature your baby's lungs and being given iv antibiotics is the correct management for you and baby at this time. Good luck with everything :) They will take good care of you both. Just listen to their plan of care for you and ask them plenty of questions. It can be scary, but it is less scary when you have all of the information - when you have had all of your questions answered.
By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Aug 2016 - 15:47
If your waters break after 37/40 gestation this can be a normal feature of early labour. A term baby is one which is 37 weeks gestation and over.
Most hospitals differ slightly in their guidance about how long to leave a lady to naturally go into labour after their waters have broken. However most of time it ranges between 12-24 hrs. After this time, you would be strongly recommended to come into the labour ward to have your labour augmented - where you would be put on a hormone drip to start giving you contractions and to start labour off. Your baby would have continuous monitoring if augmentation of labour was chosen. Your midwife and Obstetric team would go through everything in detail with you before this too.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 - 14:18
2days before at night 2'o clock i was lying at bed and suddendly felt a gush of water wtting my paint and matress on bed....aftr tht i felt watr evry half and my paints get wet....the next da i visit my dctr and she told tht my amniotic sax has broken...fron thn i am at hsptl now getting injection for the baby's lungs and anfibiotics to avoid infectuon...dctr says u hv nt much watd loss sufficent fluid is present inside for the baby...so v try to wait till u entr ur 36 weeks...bt i am too much scared
By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Aug 2016 - 12:43
if the water breaks after 37 wks, what is the best management to do?
what is the effect of it to the unborn child? is it normal that when BOW breaks b4 labor it it will affects the contractions?
By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Aug 2016 - 15:32
Hi, I am very sorry but I am not sure I understand your question, if the information above does not answer your query please do email a midwife at [email protected] or you can call us on 0800 0147 800.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Aug 2016 - 15:24
mery uterus weak hai mjy shirodkar sti????ch lga hua tha bt 8th month m mera water break ho gaea aor premature baby boy hua bt 2nd day os ki death ho gae.kia water break ka koi ilaj nai hai k pregnency ful term posible ho sky????
By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jul 2016 - 15:28
If you think your waters may have broken it is really important that you go straight to your maternity unit to be reviewed. Please do not put off going in, you can take someone with you to support you. Please also know we are here too if you need some support on 0800 0147 800 or [email protected]
By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jul 2016 - 15:25
Sorry to hear you are having such an eventful pregnancy. Rest up and if you would like to speak to a midwife please do get in contact either call on 0800 0147 800 or [email protected]
By Anonymous (not verified) on 29 Jul 2016 - 05:50
So on July 1st 2016 I noticed some fluid it had gushed out I sat down for 30 minutes and stood back up and it gushed again. I called the hospital and was told to come.in immediately, well when they called.my doctor he did some exams on me.and found out the sac had a tear in it, im 25 eeeks and 2 days now and in complete bedrest until my due date . When I went back to obgyn they said that they were going g to send me to Huntsville AL to get a second opinion on whether I should deliever or stay in bed rest
.... Right now the fluid still come out but it comes then goes. Hoping for a safe delivery!!!
By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Jul 2016 - 20:38
I think my water just break as we speak. I feel wet in my panty, and water just run out of my vigina so what can I do I'm scared of loosing my baby.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 27 Aug 2016 - 06:23
Hi my daughter waterbag broke 1 night before she is 33 weeks some water left in her and some come out. Bit she haviong not pain when will she have pain to go in deliver
By [email protected]'s on 19 Jul 2016 - 10:43
Losing a baby is devastating whatever the gestation, so you have to come to terms with the loss emotionally as well as physically. The natural instinct is to get pregnant again as soon as possible and there is no problem with this, but allow yourself some time to recover too. Regarding how long to wait before trying to get pregnant after a loss, it is usually advised to wait to have your next period first as there is often some bleeding & period like pains following a 20 week loss, so best to let that settle down first. Please feel free to contact one of our Tommy’s Midwives for a chat on 0800 0147 9800 to help you talk through your concerns at this difficult time.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Jul 2016 - 15:12
I hope everything worked out for you...
By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Jul 2016 - 06:54
Hi I recently lost my baby at 20 weeks due to pprom the dr. Said his lungs weren't developed yet so I was wondering how long do I have to wait before trying to get pregnant again?
By [email protected]'s on 7 Jul 2016 - 10:49
Your situation sounds very worrying. We can't discuss or advise here without knowing more though. Please call us on 0800 0147 800 to talk. We're on the line 9-5 Mon to Fri.
By Anonymous (not verified) on 3 Jul 2016 - 19:53
My water broke at 25 weeks and had labour pains,the doctors wer able to stop the pains but was put on total bedrest,i was give antiboitic shots and shots for babys lungs,was told no water was left there,the baby is still playing but am bleeding like its periods i keep changing pads,im so worried on whats happening.doctor told me the baby might be delivered in 2 or three days but whats worrying me is the bleeding