Labor and delivery (18)
- Episiotomy: When it's needed, when it's not
- Inducing labor: When to wait, when to induce
- Labor pain: Weigh your options for relief
- see all in Labor and delivery
Postpartum care (14)
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Water breaking: Understand this sign of labor
After my water breaks, when will labor begin?
Most women who experience premature rupture of membranes go into labor soon after their water breaks. Sometimes, however, there's a delay — which may result in the need for an induction. The longer it takes for labor to start after your water breaks, the greater the risk of developing an infection.
What happens if my water breaks too early?
If your water breaks before the 37th week of pregnancy, it's known as preterm premature rupture of membranes. Risk factors for water breaking too early include:
- A history of preterm premature rupture of membranes in a prior pregnancy
- A genital tract infection
- Vaginal bleeding during more than one trimester
- Smoking during pregnancy
If your water breaks too early, your health care provider will evaluate you and your baby. It's sometimes possible to extend pregnancy for a short time after the membranes rupture, but generally there's no turning back. Most women who have preterm premature rupture of membranes deliver within one week of their water breaking. Potential complications include infection, placental abruption — when the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — and umbilical cord prolapse, in which the umbilical cord drops into the vagina ahead of the baby. The baby is also at risk of complications due to premature birth.
What if my water doesn't break on its own?
Remember, the amniotic sac usually doesn't rupture before labor begins. If labor begins on its own, your water will break at some point before the baby is born.
If your health care provider believes the amniotic sac should be opened during active labor — when your cervix is at least partially dilated and the baby's head is deep in your pelvis — he or she may use a technique known as an amniotomy to rupture the membranes. During the amniotomy, a thin plastic hook is used to make a small opening in the amniotic sac. The procedure doesn't hurt, but you may feel a warm gush of fluid when the sac opens.
If you don't go into labor on your own, your health care provider may do an amniotomy as part of a planned induction to encourage labor to begin.
It's natural to feel anxious about labor and delivery. Try to relax. While you may not be able to predict when your water will break, you can take comfort in your knowledge about the next steps.Previous page
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- What to expect after your due date. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp069.cfm. Accessed Sept. 14, 2010.
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- Harms RW (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 16, 2010.
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