If you look really carefully you may almost be able to see the expression on a heavily pregnant women’s face when suddenly askes herself the question “was that my waters?”
Because that’s how it happens for everyone right?? Gush…. a massive wave of water and along comes your baby some hours later!!
It might surprise you to know only 1 in 10 labours start with the waters breaking and on the flip side roughly 1 in 80,000 never break and the baby is born still within the amniotic sack known as ‘en caul’.
The rupturing of the membranes surrounding baby, which is the medical term for your waters breaking can be a misleading sign of how imminent labour actually is.
More often than not your ‘waters breaking’ happens once labour has started, as the spontaneous rupture of membranes is caused due to a tear in the amniotic sack. The amniotic sack houses the baby, which is then surrounded by water known as amniotic fluid. A tear in the sack is usually caused due to the contractions of the uterus during labour and the pressure of baby who is now engaged and applying strong pressure to the mother’s cervix. In some cases and depending on how much amniotic fluid is present within the sack (this can vary greatly from pregnancy to pregnancy) a small tear can cause the fluid to leak out.
How much of a gush of water there is and the extent that mum notices this can depend on a variety of things.
If baby is engaged and headfirst, the pressure of baby’s head against mum’s cervix may cause the sack to tear, however only a small amount of water will be present between baby’s head and mum’s cervix. This is because mum’s uterus is the shape of an upside done pear. Meaning most of the water is behind baby’s bottom. This small amount of water is known as the fore waters and if this is released then it may be no more than a trickle and be mistaken for urine. The body of baby is keeping the rest of the water at bay, however if baby moves or if the pressure of the contractions cause enough movement for the hind waters to break, then this could cause a large gush.
Alternatively, the sack may rupture elsewhere causing all the water to be released in one noticeable motion.
There is a big margin here on when your waters might actually break and the term ‘breaking’ is a little misleading, as sometimes there is no massive gush, more of a trickle and if you’re like me you might never know exactly when they went.
In some cases, doctors might initiate the rupture of your membranes by inserting a sterile needle into your cervix, this is done when there is a need to speed up labour. Alternatively, if baby is born via caesarean section then the sack will be ruptured at this point if not already released.
The final scenario is that your membranes release only a short while prior to you holding your baby in your arms and in very rare cases a baby can be born still within their amniotic sack and all the water intact.
Although waters breaking is an exciting sign that baby is on their way, most labours actually start with mild aches and cramps which can easily be missed. A bit more boring than the movies would like to have us believe, but I guess it can’t hurt to wear a pad and carry some spare pants and leggings in your bag just in case.
By Ellie Dearden
Hypnobirthing Instructor at Born to Birth Company