When your water breaks, it means the amniotic sac has ruptured. This typically signals the beginning of labor, but it may be several hours before you feel a contraction.

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If it’s been more than 24 hours since your water broke or you’re under 37 weeks pregnant, head to the hospital right away.

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Usually, when your water breaks, it means that labor is beginning and you’ll soon meet your little one. You’ll typically start having contractions shortly after your water breaks.

But in some cases, your water breaks — and then nothing. This can be perfectly normal and might mean your body will just need some time to kick into labor. On the other hand, you may need some medical intervention.

Here’s what you do next if your water broke but you’re not having contractions.

Your water breaks when the amniotic sac in the uterus breaks open, either fully or partially.

The amniotic sac is the membrane that surrounds and protects your baby in the womb. When the sac ruptures, amniotic fluid leaks through the cervix and vagina. This is why your water breaking is called a rupture of membranes (ROM) in the medical world.

The sac can naturally rupture as your baby’s head moves down in the birth canal during labor. Or an outside force can rupture it, such as an accident or with a special instrument the doctor uses.

It can also rupture as a result of pregnancy complications, like an infection or polyhydramnios (when you have too much amniotic fluid).

In some situations, your water can also break for no real known reason, or it can break too early in your pregnancy.

Although labor can begin very shortly after your water breaks, for some people, there can be a delay between their water breaking and when contractions begin.

In most cases, if you don’t experience contractions right after your water breaks, there’s no reason to worry. There are a couple reasons that you may not have contractions right after your water breaks:

  • It could just be the very early stages of labor. The average length of labor for a first-timer is around 12 to 18 hours, so it may take some time for your contractions to kick in.
  • The contractions may be so mild that you don’t really notice them. Over time, your contractions will increase in frequency and intensity.

If you suspect that your water has broken — and sometimes it can be hard to tell — you should always call your doctor right away.

Your doctor may advise you to stay home and wait to see if contractions start, or they may want to evaluate you. (There are tests that can be performed to see whether your water has actually broken.)

As you wait for your labor to progress, you can rest, take slow walks, or focus on other ways to relax. If you’re home, you can also eat during early labor. This one’s important, because once you’re admitted to the hospital, you may not be able to eat anything.

The longer your water is broken, the more your risk of infection increases. Most healthcare professionals will recommend interventions if labor hasn’t begun within 24 hours of your water breaking.

If your water breaks before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it’s called a preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). PPROM isn’t typical, but according to older research, it does happen in about 2 to 20 percent of pregnancies.

Preexisting conditions, lifestyle choices, or health concerns might put you at higher risk of PPROM. For example:

  • being underweight
  • having poor nutrition
  • smoking while pregnant
  • previous preterm births
  • experiencing vaginal bleeding in the second and third trimesters
  • being diagnosed with a short cervical length

If your water breaks before 37 weeks of pregnancy, call your doctor — regardless of whether you’re having contractions or not — and head to a hospital ASAP.

If you’re at home waiting for your contractions to kick in, you may be wondering whether you can take a bath after your water breaks. The research is mixed on this one.

Some doctors will recommend that you avoid taking a bath if your water has broken, because it could pose an infection risk. Others may say it’s perfectly fine.

Your best bet? Check with your own doctor before taking a bath at home if your water has broken. And when in doubt, hop in the shower instead.

Follow your doctor’s advice about when to head to the hospital once your water has broken. Different OBs give different advice about the timing of contractions and when you should come in.

If they’ve advised you to wait at home for your contractions to kick in, go to the hospital once your contractions are occurring at the intervals they’ve told you. And ask your OB how long you should wait if your contractions don’t start.

If your water breaks and you’re 37 weeks pregnant or earlier, head to the hospital right away.

If you haven’t been receiving prenatal care and don’t have a doctor, call your local emergency room when your water breaks. They’ll be able to guide you on what to do next.

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Your water breaking can be a scary and exciting event. Chances are, your baby is about to make their grand appearance.

Contractions usually start soon after your water breaks — but not always. You may experience a delay between when your water breaks and when contractions begin.

If you’re 37 weeks or more pregnant, call your doctor for advice about when to head to the hospital if your water breaks and you’re not having contractions.

But if it’s been more than 24 hours since your water broke or you’re under 37 weeks pregnant, head to the hospital right away.