The most common reason for a woman’s water to break is labor. However, it can also happen before that point if there are preterm complications.
Some women experience a sudden gush of water, while others notice a trickle that may be clear or tinged with blood or meconium. This is called premature rupture of membranes (PROM). It’s not usually caused by sex.
While many women envision their water breaking as a sudden and uncontrollable gush, the reality is usually much more subtle. According to Ashley Brichter, founder of Birth Smarter, a company that offers in-person and online childbirth classes, only 15 to 20% of pregnant women actually experience their water break before labor starts. And even when it does, it’s not always caused by sex.
When a woman’s “water breaks,” it means the membrane that protects the fetus (the amniotic sac) ruptures and clear, thin, odor-free amniotic fluid comes out of the vagina. Most of the time, when a woman’s water breaks, it signals that she is in or about to start labor. But it can also happen before a woman starts contracting, and sometimes doctors need to break a woman’s water for medical reasons.
The intensity of the contractions a woman experiences during sexual intercourse is not strong enough to cause her amniotic sac to break, Groenhout says. But it is possible for the membrane to rupture due to other things, including infections or a change in pressure on the uterus. If a woman is less than 37 weeks and her water breaks without her having a contraction, it’s a medical emergency and can lead to preterm labor and possibly serious health complications for the baby.
It’s Not Caused by Sex
Some women worry that sex will cause their water to break early, but this is not a common occurrence. The only time it is likely to happen before labor is when the amniotic sac ruptures due to pressure, which may occur for a number of reasons, including physical trauma or infection.
The gush of liquid that occurs when your water breaks is clear, thin, and odorless. It usually happens suddenly, but it can also trickle out slowly over a period of days. If it is a sudden gush, your healthcare provider will probably want to see you immediately, and they might order a test called an amnisure to confirm that your water has indeed broken.
If your water breaks but you do not start having contractions, your healthcare provider might intervene to help bring on labor. This is usually done by a procedure called a membrane stripping. It involves inserting a thin tool through the vagina to break the amniotic sac. This is often performed when labor has stalled or to speed it up, but it is not guaranteed to work and can increase the risk of infection.
There are many other ways to try to induce labor, but it is important to always seek medical advice first. It is especially important to never try to self-induce labor if your water has already broken, as this could result in infection or other complications for both you and your baby.
It’s Not a Sign of Labor
While the movie scenes of a woman’s water breaking in a dramatic flood may seem exciting, that isn’t usually what happens. In reality, the amniotic sac that cushions a fetus usually ruptures during active labor or when the baby’s ready to be born.
It’s also not the same thing as the mucus plug, which is a pinkish or slightly bloody vaginal discharge that can look a little like snot, explains Schweizer. If you notice that your mucus plug has passed, it’s a good sign that your labor is getting close.
Women tend to start having contractions before their water breaks, says Groenhout, but the intense contractions of active labor can often speed up the process. Occasionally, though, the amniotic sac can break spontaneously without the presence of contractions. This is called premature rupture of membranes, or PROM, and it can be dangerous for both the mother and fetus.
Unlike pee, which is dark yellow and has a noticeable odor, amniotic fluid is clear and odorless. Typically, mothers know when their water has broken because it either leaks or gushes out of the vagina. If the fluid feels a little like urine, or even like semen (it can have bits of blood in it), a doctor can run a test to be sure that your water has actually broken and not something else.
Although sexual activity can cause your water to break, it’s not usually a sign that labor is about to begin. In fact, the onset of labor is complex and can be influenced by many factors, including the type of sex you have. However, it is important to remember that sex should always be conducted with the approval of your healthcare provider, especially in the late stages of pregnancy.
If your water breaks, you may experience a sudden pop or a slow trickle that takes a while to notice. The fluid is typically clear to pinkish in color and doesn’t have a strong odor. It also doesn’t look or feel like regular vaginal discharge, although it can be a little thicker than urine.
Once the fluid breaks, your healthcare provider will check to see if it is amniotic fluid or something else. They will perform what’s called a speculum examination in which they insert a small instrument covered in gel into your vagina. This is not painful and only feels a little different than when your cervix is being checked during an ultrasound. They will swab the fluid in your vagina for a group B strep test and for infection, then they will assess the condition of your uterus and your baby using an ultrasound.
If the swab shows that you have low levels of amniotic fluid or that your cervix has dilated early, they will order a special test known as an Amnisure that confirms whether or not your water has broken for sure.