Pregnant woman on the phone saying my water broke but I'm not in labor

What to do when your water breaks – and you’re not contracting yet!

It doesn’t happen often STAT HERE, but occasionally the amniotic sac breaks and the water releases before labor begins. It can really throw people for a loop, because that’s not how you expect labor to start. So let’s talk about your options in that situation.

NOTE: This discussion applies to this situation *at term* – so if this happens to you and you are not yet 37 weeks, call your midwife or doctor immediately.

Step 1: Figure out if it really was your water breaking.

If you just laughed, sneezed, coughed or were startled, it may not have been your water breaking. I’ve written previously about what to look for when your water breaks. If it was a one-time event that didn’t recur, chances are it was a leakage of urine. If you’re unsure, you can call your midwife or doctor for advice.

Step 2: Consider your options

There are several ways to handle it. All of them require the same safety precautions in order to avoid infection:

  • Nothing inside the vagina. This means no tampons, no sponges, no menstrual cups, etc.
  • No Sex. This goes along with the “nothing in the vagina” approach.
  • No baths. There is generally little evidence on safety either way, so most care providers recommend avoiding baths in early labor when the water is broken. Showers are fine.
  • Watch for signs of infection. If you start running a fever, feeling achy all over, or notice a change in smell or color in the fluid that is leaking, call your midwife or doctor immediately.

Option 1: Wait and see

As long as there are no signs of infection, you might choose to wait and see if contractions begin on their own while at home, at your birth center, or in the hospital. Consider your comfort level and the services you may or may not want while you wait. How long it might be safe to wait and see depends on a lot of factors that can’t really be addressed in a short article, and you should discuss this with your midwife or doctor as you make a plan. That’s why it’s critical to have a good collaborative relationship with your care provider, and choose someone with a philosophy similar to yours!

Option 2: DIY Induction

You might opt to see if you can get contractions to start on your own, in the absence of infection. Keep in mind that a “home induction” or a “natural induction” is still an induction of labor! Nipple stimulation, herbs, walking, and accupressure are common choices, and they each have their own benefits and risks to consider. Remember to keep all of the safety precautions in mind, especially the “nothing in the vagina” one if you choose to try to get the hormones flowing via orgasm.

Option 3: Medical induction

You might choose to go to the hospital for a medical induction, usually with Pitocin. For some, this might be a big, yet necessary, change in your birth plan, maybe even a change in birth place, and a hard thing to do. For others, this might be a welcome event. Pitocin has it’s own set of risks and benefits that need to be considered in the context of the amniotic sac already broken.

Step 3: Have a baby!

Having your water break before the beginning of contractions might have upset your birth plan some, but you don’t need to throw the rest of it out the window! Consider what parts of your birth plan are still workable, and make them work!