What to Do When Your Waters Break

Your waters breaking is a classic sign that baby is coming out NOW… right? Probably not.

Midwife of 35 years and mother of three, Vicki Bryce gives her take on labour and what to do when your waters break.

In early labour, your waters might break (or they might not). The technical term is ‘ruptured membranes’. On TV, a woman’s waters breaking is depicted as a gush of water like someone has popped a water balloon. This can happen, but you might also experience a less dramatic slow leak. Ladies arriving at the hospital with a beach towel between their legs have had the gush. One very thoughtful husband cut two leg holes in a black garbage bag for her to wear like a nappy so she wouldn’t leak on the seat of his new car.

Downpour or drizzle?

What leaks out when your waters break is the amniotic fluid, or liquor (pronounced lykor). A normal liquor volume is between 600 and 1000mls and it doesn’t come out in one gush. Think of an ill-fitting plug in the bath; the water seeps out. If your waters have broken, the fluid keeps coming, even if it is only drip by drip. If you don’t need a pad, it probably isn’t liquor. Remember, vaginas are self-cleaning devices, producing secretions to keep themselves clean. Secretions as you approach term can be quite watery and sometimes baby can head butt your bladder – both of these can sometimes be confused with waters breaking. Secretions are sticky and can be managed with a panty liner. Amniotic fluid is not sticky, can have a pinkish tinge, and will need more than a pad (think hand towel) to manage.

Call your midwife and they will assess how urgently you need to go to hospital. TV has led many to believe that once the waters break baby is just minutes away. This could be true if you have been in labour for a while and it is not your first child; however, it could be another 24 hours, or, if you are not yet 37 weeks along, even longer.

Tales from the front line

One lady came to hospital with a supportive but grumpy friend. She had been admiring her friend’s new couch when her waters broke. That $3000, two-day old sofa was now soaked in pink tinged amniotic fluid. A pink tinge is quite normal, just not the colour you want on the lounge! I have always wondered how well liquor cleans out of lounges and who gets the cleaning bill. She was so embarrassed, despite our reassurances she had no control over, or warning of, when her membranes would rupture.

In another recent delivery I received a phone call. “I think my waters have broken!” she said, just barely over the din of clattering and other voices. “I’m in the bathroom at a restaurant,” she told me. “It just keeps coming!” “Yes, it will do that. Pad yourself up with whatever you can find, cloth napkins if you can and come in,” I told her.

Ten minutes later she arrived, trousers dutifully padded to look like she was wearing a nappy. Her partner followed right behind. Then so did another couple, and another couple, and another. Ten more people followed her into the delivery suite. She’d been at a large dinner and everyone there had decided they would come to the hospital too. Anyone who wasn’t the partner was soon dismissed. Dinner and a show was not on offer that night.

The pregnancy ‘rules’

Some ladies’ waters break a few days before baby is born, and some don’t break at all. Like every other part of your pregnancy, there are no absolute rules – just huge variations on the norm. You can even get to 10cm dilated without them breaking, so we rupture them for you.

If your waters break, call your midwife. First babies are often very slow and are highly unlikely to just fall out or be born just after your waters break. Fourth and fifth babies are more likely to fall out. If this happens, just pick baby up – it won’t have gone far as it’ll still be attached to you by the umbilical cord.

The only trouble you can get yourself into with a baby that decides to arrive into the world in a hurry is to try and cut the cord. If it is not secured properly it can bleed, so leave it alone until you get to the hospital. Keeping the cord and baby connected is very safe – nothing untoward will happen, even if the placenta comes out too. If the placenta comes out, put it in a plastic bag (placentas are very messy) and head to the hospital.

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About the author

Vicki is the author of ‘Hatch and Dispatch: tales and advice from a midwife’. The book is a compilation of the advice Vicki gives to expectant mums almost every day. Using stories from the delivery suite, the book blends narrative and advice into a funny and practical resource every expectant mum should read.

Avatar of Naomi Foxall

Naomi is 3/4 latte drinking, peanut butter obsessed former magazine girl who now does stuff with words for a living while juggling 2.5 kids, 2 cats, 1 rabbit, husband and an unhealthy obsession with slow cooking.

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