We all know the Hollywood version of water breaking in spectacular and unmistakable fashion when labor starts. The reality is often much less dramatic and sometimes confusing. It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to find themselves wondering how to tell if your water broke or you peed.
While occasionally water does break like in the movies, that is not really the norm. Despite many women’s frequent worries that their water will break at the most inconvenient time making a huge embarrassing mess, this is actually not that likely.
Take some comfort in knowing that it is much more common for your water to break during labor than out of the blue before labor has started.
But what is a pregnant woman to do when she feels a little trickle? Or wakes up in a puddle unsure if she wet the bed?
On a personal note, I did not expect this uncertainty when I was pregnant with my first. I called my husband to tell him that either my water broke or I peed my pants. I was confused and embarrassed feeling like water breaking should be totally obvious.
Well for me, it was not obvious at all. And apparently a lot of other women have the same issue.
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What Actually Happens When Your Water Breaks?
During pregnancy your baby is inside a fluid filled amniotic sac that helps keep baby cushioned and protected. When your water breaks (called rupture of membranes), it’s the amniotic sac that “breaks” and the amniotic fluid or “water” leaks out.
This may happen on its own before or during labor, or you doctor might do it to progress labor.
But if you’re wondering what does water breaking look like? Well, it can very widely.
Water can break in a huge gush, a slow trickle, or somewhere in between. Where the sac ruptures and the position of the baby can impact the flow.
How to Tell If Your Water Broke or You Peed
In late pregnancy, it can get a bit confusing for pregnant women to know if they are leaking amniotic fluid or urine or even discharge. With all of the pressure on the bladder plus hormone changes, lots of women experience some urinary incontinence during pregnancy and sometimes even after.
Many pregnant women experience leaking especially when coughing, sneezing, or laughing. A well placed baby kick can also cause a leak.
So when you feel something wet down there, pee is a possibility.
Well how do you know if your water is leaking or just pee?
Check out the color of fluid. Amniotic fluid is usually clear or pale yellow.
This can be difficult to really determine if you’re looking at the fluid on your clothing or another material. Also, if you’re well hydrated your urine may also be very light, so this can still be a bit difficult to differentiate.
Mom Tip: To get a better look at the fluid, wear a pad or panty liner for a little while. The color will be easier to see on a white pad.
If the fluid is brown or green, tell your doctor. This indicates meconium (baby’s first poop) and isn’t necessarily a problem, but should be monitored for potential issues so your doctor needs to know.
Most people know the smell of urine. By contrast, amniotic fluid is often described as odorless, sweet smelling, or similar in smell to semen.
Keep in mind that if you’re drinking lots of water and super hydrated, your pee may not have a strong smell.
Some moms seem to be able to distinguish quite well with the sniff test, but I did not find it particularly helpful.
Unlike urine which you can stop midstream, you won’t be able to control the flow of amniotic fluid. If it just keeps coming, it’s probably amniotic fluid.
A very slow trickle that isn’t continuous can be more difficult to identify. My doctor suggested putting on a pad then changing positions for how to tell if your water is leaking slowly. Lay down for half an hour and see if fluid leaks when you get up.
Personally, I found this advice to be very helpful.
Some women say that they feel or hear a “pop” when their water breaks.
It’s important to note that not all women share this experience. So you could still be leaking amniotic fluid even if you never felt a popping sensation. I was.
If you are not already in labor when your water breaks, it usually starts fairly soon after. So if you’re still trying to figure out what leaked when you start feeling contractions there’s a good chance it was your water breaking.
On the flip side though, water breaking without contractions starting is entirely possible. If your water has broken, the risk of infection increases over time so it’s important to keep track of the time and find out for sure. While most women will go into labor on their own, if it doesn’t happen quickly enough your doctor will want to monitor and may induce.
Contractions starting is actually the thing that finally convinced me to go to the hospital.
I know I know, you don’t want to rush to the hospital just to be told that you wet your pants.
Your doctor is the best person to advise you, so if you aren’t sure what is leaking, give them a call.
They will likely ask you about what you’re experiencing like the color, odor, amount, time, and may have suggestions to help you figure it out. If it’s not obvious, they will probably tell you to come in.
A physical exam and test for amniotic fluid will let you know if your water broke.
I was still not sure if my water had broken when I went to the hospital. Based on my description, the nurse didn’t really seem convinced my water had broken either. My contractions were relatively mild and I was actually expecting them to send me right back home just before the test for amniotic fluid came up positive.
If you have any doubt, it’s best to get checked.
Important Things to Know if Your Water Broke:
- If you’re less than 37 weeks, call your doctor right away.
- Don’t use tampons! If your water has broken, you don’t want to put anything inside as it will increase your risk of infection. Go ahead and break out the big postpartum pads or, as I prefer, disposable underwear to catch the leaking.
- If you’re water has broken (or you still aren’t sure) and develop a fever, call your doctor immediately.
- Though it is super rare when your water breaks, if you feel the umbilical cord in your vagina it is an emergency, so call 911 .
Hey moms, do you have a funny water breaking story? Was it obvious? Did you think you might have peed? We’d love to hear when and how your water broke!