Pregnancy is a wild and exhilarating time of life. Whether you’ve experienced morning sickness 24 hours a day into your second trimester or it’s been smooth sailing the past nine months, the most significant thing about pregnancy is that it will eventually end. You will have a new baby to love, adore, and care for.
While exciting, the process of going into labor can be very nerve-wracking at the same time. As your due date approaches, the anticipation of going into labor starts to build, and you begin to wonder when and how this will all play out. Even though no one can predict when labor will start or when and if your water will break, there are a few signs to watch out for that indicate labor may be underway. Here, an expert weighs in on what to expect when your water breaks and what actions you need to take when and if it happens.
5 Signs Your Water Could Break Soon
You Lost Your Mucus Plug
Also known as the “bloody show.” Your mucus plug blocks the cervix to protect the baby in the uterus. When you lose it, your cervix is dilating (expanding), and labor is underway (anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks). You could experience the loss all at once or lose it in pieces. Typically, there is a tinge of pink, red, or brown discharge along with it, and it appears in your underwear or after you wipe.
You’re More Exhausted Than Normal
The third trimester already sucks a lot of energy from you, but toward the end, you might experience an overwhelming sense to nap. The energy zap could be a combination of things—the baby could be going through its final growth spurt, and your hormones could be making a big shift to prepare your body for labor. Either way, honor your body and give yourself the rest you need for labor and delivery.
You Have a Sudden Urge To Nest
On the flip side, you might experience increased energy and a desire to finish “all the things.” This phenomenon is called “nesting.” Call it instinct or just realizing that the baby is coming soon, and you want to complete all the tasks. However, don’t overdo it. You’re at the end of pregnancy, labor can begin at any moment, and you don’t want to go into it already tired.
You Experience Digestive Issues
Some women experience diarrhea a few days before they go into labor. The increase in the hormones prostaglandins could cause digestive issues. It’s your body’s way of emptying the bowels to ensure efficient contractions of the uterus.
You Feel Like the Baby Has Dropped
You might have heard of women talk about feeling the baby “drop.” When you feel like the baby has moved lower, this process is called “lightening.” Lightening happens when the baby has moved lower into the pelvis to prepare for labor. During this time, you will feel an increased pressure in your pelvis and may need to urinate more frequently.
What To Expect When Your Water Breaks
Rupture of the membranes, what we know as “your water breaking,” is one of the trickiest areas when it comes to labor and delivery. “The telltale signs of your water breaking [could be] as simple as a large gush or as confusing as a slow trickle that can often be confused as discharge, as women experience a lot of extra vaginal discharge during pregnancy,” Kelli Coughlin RN, BSN, RNC-OB, who specializes in obstetric nursing, explains.
Signs of your water breaking [could be] as simple as a large gush or as confusing as a slow trickle.
Coughlin says, “We often have many women come into triage very sure that their water broke when they usually just urinated on themselves. However, nurses and most OB-GYN doctors always say it’s better to be sure and advise you to come in and get checked. We have seen many times that a woman thinks it is just discharge or maybe urine, and she actually has a slow leak of amniotic fluid.” As confusing as it all can be, here’s what you can expect when and if your water does break.
You Feel Pressure or Hear a Pop
When my water broke with my first child, I stood up just as her father was leaving for work. It played out like a scene from a movie. I felt pressure like the band in my underwear might have broken, and I heard a pop. Startled by what just happened, I gasped, held my breath, and a few seconds later, a trickle of fluid ran down my leg. The breaking of the amniotic sac that holds the baby causes the slight popping sound and the pressure you may feel.
The Fluid Is Intermittent and Doesn’t Stop
“When your water breaks, the fluid doesn’t stop, and the amount may increase if followed by painful, consistent contractions,” says Coughlin. Women sometimes describe the sensation as a gush of water alongside each contraction.
Amniotic Fluid Is Clear, Odorless, and Thin
One way to tell the difference between urine and amniotic fluid is that amniotic fluid should be clear, thin, and nearly odorless. “If anything seems off, green or odorous fluid, then you should call the doctor and let them know you are on your way in,” advises Coughlin. Vaginal discharge is usually thicker and can have a slippery consistency. Urine will most likely have some color and a distinct smell, while amniotic fluid has been said to sometimes smell like semen or chlorine.
What To Expect if Your Healthcare Provider Has To Break Your Water
There are several reasons that your provider would have to break your water, and it turns out, it’s very common. “Having your bag of water broken in the hospital is honestly super common,” Coughlin explains. “Most women do not experience the water breaking as you see in the movies. Most of the time we break the water in order to help labor progress along and release some of those proteins to clue the body that it’s time to have a baby.”
Some other reasons your healthcare provider may have to break your water is to gain access to the baby’s head for monitoring either the strength and frequency of your contracts or the baby’s heart rate. The process feels like a cervical exam and is done by either using friction between their two fingers or a small plastic device called an amnio hook. Since the bag of waters has no nerve endings, you end up feeling nothing. Sometimes it results in a small trickle where you feel like you’ve accidentally peed and other times it is a big gush of water.
What Happens Next?
What you do after your water breaks depends entirely on where you are in pregnancy. “If you are less than 37 weeks, call your doctor immediately no matter what,” advises Coughlin. If you are full-term and planning a vaginal delivery, labor should start shortly after your water breaks. Call the triage nurse if you don’t experience contractions within 4 hours after your water breaks. Your risk of infection increases after your bag of water breaks. If you have a c-section scheduled, call or go in immediately.
You can also experience all the signs and symptoms listed above that indicate labor is coming soon and stay at a standstill. If this happens to be you, you can try some workouts to induce labor. If you’re hovering around the 40-week mark and you’re feeling very uncomfortable, talk to your doctor about what is induced labor to see if that could be an option for you.