What Causes Your Water to Break When You're Pregnant
Baby Ready to Enter the World
My first child was born on her due date, which is a rare occurrence as only about 5% of babies share this punctuality. It was exactly twelve o'clock noon when my water broke, and my daughter announced her desire to enter this world. Somehow I knew to stay home from work that day - sort of a sixth sense. The slow trickle of amniotic fluid gave me time to call everyone, pack my bags, and get to the hospital in plenty of time before contractions even started.
We always smile back at my daughter's precise timing which turned out to be a foreshadowing of her "unbending" personality. But was it really her strong will that caused my water to break, or something more scientific? There are several factors that may cause a pregnant woman's water to break.
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Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM) Not Very Common
Only about 10% of pregnant women experience the premature rupture of membranes (PROM), which would be sometime within 24 hours before serious labor begins at 37-42 weeks. (This should not be confused with preterm premature rupture, which will be discussed later.) Contrary to amusing movie portrayals, most of these women endure only a small trickle of clear or yellowish amniotic fluid, as opposed to a huge gush onto the middle of the supermarket floor. So, there really is no need to carry a jar of pickles around!
In the case of PROM, the membranes tear or burst as a woman's body prepares for labor. According to WhattoExpect.com, the mysterious chemical chain reaction that causes labor to begin has been linked to brain signals from the fetus. So, yes, maybe it was my daughter controlling the bridge that day! When labor starts, the baby's position will shift downward, causing additional pressure inside the amniotic sac. The increased pressure may cause the sac to pop like a balloon or, as in most cases, to tear just a bit, allowing for the leak or trickle. In either situation, if you suspect that your water has broken, call your doctor. Once the safety of the amniotic sac has been breached, there is opportunity for infection.
Water Breaking During Labor
In most pregnancies, the membranes are ruptured naturally during labor, once you are in the hospital. As contractions progress, and the baby moves towards the birth canal, the amniotic sac is pressured to break. In most cases, the contractions will rupture the sac, and you will just feel a warm gush of water.
If you are having an induced labor, it is likely that your doctor will artificially break the membrane, using an amniotic hook. Don't worry, though - it does not hurt. With my second child, labor was induced, and there was no pain associated with the thin plastic hook used to break the membranes. The process actually helped my labor progress.
Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM)
An early rupturing of the membranes (before 37 weeks) is the main cause of one out of four premature births. Once the amniotic sac breaks, there is a risk of infection, and labor cannot be delayed for long. The Mayo Clinic and other doctors have identified the following risk factors and possible causes for the complication of preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM.
- prior history of PPROM
- genital tract infection
- vaginal bleeding during more than one trimester
- weak or injured cervix
- deficiencies in copper, zinc, or Vitamin C
- sexual intercourse
- decreased collagen in the tissues
- multiples (twins or more)
- abnormal baby presentation, for example, breech
Pregnancies Too Close Together May Cause Water to Break Early
The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a report in 2010 that showed an increased risk of PPROM for women who became pregnant again soon after childbirth. This risk was reported highest for black women who became pregnant three to six months after childbirth. Women who waited at least 18 months were less likely to have the complication. The report concluded that a woman's body needs adequate time for full recovery between births.
When Will My Water Break?
Most women do not experience the complications of PROM or PPROM. You can benefit, however, by being informed of the risks and causes, and by following general instructions from your obstetrician. If your water does break early or unexpectedly, stay calm and contact your doctor. On the flip side, if your labor begins, but your water does not break, don't panic. In most cases, a woman's water does not break until she is well into real labor. By that time, hopefully, you will already be at the hospital or in the presence of the appropriate health care provider.
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