Did my Water Break or Is it Discharge (or pee)

It seems like it would be SO clear when your water breaks.  You’ll have  gush of fluid, like you just turned on the uterus faucet — you’ll pack your hospital bag and you’ll go have a baby in the next few hours, right?  But, it’s not.  Discharge changes later in pregnancy and it’s just REALLY hard to tell the difference sometimes.  So, I’m going to talk you through some of the best ways to tell.


And, if we haven’t met — I’m Hilary.  a lot of people know me as The Pregnancy Nurse®.  I’ve been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of labor and delivery experience.  I have also been pregnant three times so I know HOW confusing it can be at the end, I get you.

As always, if you think your water broke or you have any questions about you or your own medical needs please do contact your health care provider.  They do have a definitive test they can used (called Amnisure) that will tell them if your water did or did not break, and then you’ll know.  This article is NOT medical advice.

Oh, and if you’re far enough along to have this question have you gotten your prenatal class in yet?  This one can totally be done in just a few hours and it is created to turn your partner into a great team mate vs just a cheerleader.

Ok, let’s answer the big question

Water Breaking vs Discharge – how do you tell the difference?

The main difference is that amniotic fluid is more watery which sounds like I stated the obvious.  But in general discharge will be thicker.  It should also continue to come out rather than having a bit, and then nothing for a while.

The big problem here is that towards the end of pregnancy your discharge will start to thin out and get more watery than it has been.  Most people wear a pad or a panty liner for the last few days before baby is born because of that.

It’s complicated, so let’s keep talking through this….

And let’s get the grossest part out of the way….. {pregnancy is fun, right???}

What does late-stage pregnancy discharge look like?

 As you get closer to labor (and your due date), many women experience an increase in vaginal discharge. This discharge is typically thin, white or clear, and odorless. The changes in discharge happen as baby’s head is pushing down more on the birth canal, possibly contractions now and then, and all the increased blood flow to that area to keep baby alive.  All of that is normal (and annoying).  You may find yourself wearing a sanitary pad towards the end of your pregnancy because of this increase in discharge.

It can also be parts of your mucus plug as well (which is not watery).

However, if the discharge is accompanied by a strong odor, itching or burning sensations, it could be a sign of a vaginal infection and requires medical attention.

Overall, it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in vaginal discharge and leakage during late-stage pregnancy and notify your healthcare provider of any concerns. 

Here is the part where I tell you it’s not unusual to think your water has broken and it has not.  The hospital and most doctor or midwife offices (if they have the test) test people all the time and we find-out it’s negative.  We MUCH prefer this to you having your waters broken and not doing anything about it (and we’ll talk more about why that can be a problem coming up).

Why Does Your Water Break?

Well, your baby currently lives in a bag of fluid, and in order to live in the world that bag has to break and they will need to live in our air-breathing world.

Some people it doesn’t actually happen until baby is born (although this is rare).

What does it mean when your water breaks?

When your water bag is actually broken (and I’m hoping if you’re still reading you still aren’t sure if it did or not) that means baby needs to be born in the next day or so.

Prior to your water breaking, your amniotic sac is a protective barrier for both your uterus and the baby.  Once the water is broken it allows all the bacteria in your birth canal to come up into the uterine cavity around baby and into those tissues.  This puts you at an increased risk of infection.  They will want to see your contractions start-up within 12’ish hours of the water breaking (but ask your provider what they would want to see in your case) to get baby out of the womb and into your arms.

Essentially it starts the clock on labor and when baby will be born.  If your water is broken it is is one of the big signs of labour that baby will be born soon.

What does it feel like when your water breaks?

Many of my patients describe a “popping” feeling and then they get a gush of water (maybe just a tiny one, or sometimes it’s a huge gush) that comes out.

The size of that gush really depends on where inside the uterus the bag broke.

  • So, if it broke high up in the uterus only a little will spill out — that would be a smaller, slow leak — or a slow trickle of fluid.
  • If it broke at the bottom of your uterus it will likely be a larger gush.

I have a whole post on how to know if it’s your water slowly leaking.

The amniotic sac isn’t like a water balloon that sort of disappears when it breaks.  It is thicker, and retains it’s shape for the most part inside the uterus.

Some people may have had more mild contractions prior to the water breaking (they may have even been sleeping through them) but once the water breaks sometimes your contractions become more painful and intense.

But, sometimes contractions aren’t happening also.  Either way it’s best to speak with your provider if you think your water has broken.

It also doesn’t really matter whether your water broke high or low or the amount of fluid in the grand scheme of things, it just sometimes makes it harder to tell.

If you like someone breaking things down so they’re EASY to understand, come join me in this. It’s risk-free guarantee makes it a win for everyone!

is it discharge or is my water broken?

What is in Amniotic Fluid?

While your uterus makes the amniotic fluid early in pregnancy, in the later stages the majority of that fluid is baby pee.  So, as the baby drinks in amniotic fluid and gets nutrients from your blood supply, they put it through their kidneys and it comes out as urine.  The good news is that all of that is sterile and although it can seem sort of gross it’s perfectly fine.

The good news is that we all know that babies keep making pee, so you will have a continuous supply of amniotic fluid.

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Water breaking: When can it happen?

Honestly whenever.  It can happen earlier in pregnancy — this is called PPROM (preterm premature rupture of membranes – and can obviously be problematic if it happens too early).  If your water breaks before 37 weeks of pregnancy (after that you’d be considered full term) you need to make sure to call your provider asap.

But, as you get later into your pregnancy it can happen whenever.  Which can be sort of daunting for pregnant women, I found.  I have a whole post on the signs your water might break.

The good news is that it really only happens in about 15% of cases outside the hospital — so it doesn’t happen as often as TV and the movies would make you think.

Pro Tip: I actually recommend people carry around some towels or puppy pads with them in the car and have a stash at work in case their water breaks in those last few weeks.  I also recommend everyone get a waterproof mattress pad just because you never know when your water will break (and that mattress pad is great for parents too).

But, in all reality it can happen in the shower, when you how a bowel movement, while you’re peeing, as you get out of bed, as you’re laying in bed.  I think the most frequent story I’ve heard is someone laying in bed, they feel a “pop” and then they stand up and a gush comes out.  But, every story is different.

What Should You Do When Your Water Breaks?

As a nurse, I recommend you first make sure that nothing else has come out into your vagina — while this is SUPER rare, sometimes a hand or the umbilical cord can come into your vagina.  As I said this is really rare, but I think just quickly making sure nothing is there can be reassuring (if anything IS there – it will be obvious – you want to call 911 immediately and get your butt in the air and your head on the ground ASAP).

Ok, Your next steps after that are to see what the fluid looks like (is it clear, or green, does it have a tinge of blood or does it look bloody), and then call your provider and see what they recommend.  Their recommendations are most often based off of what else is going on (and also on what that fluid looks like)  Are you having contractions, any bleeding, what’s your GBS status, any risk factors and a few other things.

When your water breaks — keep track of your TACO (your provider will want to know about these things):
T – Time (this is important to note — an approximate time — about 3 or whatnot)
A – Amount (a lot or a little – just say what it felt like to you)
C – Color (is it clear, green, brown, etc)
O – Odor (does it smell funny – this could be a sign of an infection)

While amniotic fluid can have streaks of blood in it, if it looks BLOODY you may want to head directly to the hospital, and call your doctor on the way.  It can be a sign of placental abruption.

Some providers will let you hang out at home for a while, and some providers may encourage you to come into the hospital soon.

Unless you are in rip-roaring labor  with strong labor contractions or you have a history of fast labors, most often you will have time for a shower before heading into the hospital.

If you would like to stay at home a bit longer or wait til’ your in active labor please do discuss that with your provider.  Many will say to come in, but if you’d like to stay at home for a bit they’d be OK with that as well.

If you want to wait to see what your body does: Some providers push to see contractions right away after your water breaks. This study showed 45% will go into labor in 12 hours, but no real difference in outcome for those who didn’t go into labor for 72 hours. This study also recommended to wait at least 48 hours before inducing labor.

Either way it is time to get that hospital bag packed:

Is it pee or did my water break?

This is a tough one.  I actually have a whole post on pee vs water breaking.  My one tip for this one is:

Pee usually happens once, it should not be happening frequently.

Leaking a bit of urine now and then at the end of your pregnancy isn’t unusual due to your small bladder, those muscles relaxing, etc. Don’t be embarassed!

Amniotic fluid should keep coming out.  Try to cough, or lay down for a bit and then stand up (or even just change positions) and see if you get another gush of fluid.

One of my favorite tips is to lay on your back and lift your hips (as though you had to take off your pants while laying down).  I find that movement often leads to a gush of fluid if your water has broken — but not always.

And of course, if you have any questions to if it broken please do call your provider.

This class really helped prepare my wife and I before our first child.

Will my water break before I go into labor?

Not always — only 15% of people will have their water break before going into the hospital.  So, actually a minority.

Many people labor for quite a while with their bag of water intact.  Frankly, I prefer it, as it allows for more movement and the contractions aren’t felt as strongly (although, at a certain point your bag of waters may be stopping labor and may need to be broken by your provider).

Most often your provider will break your water at some point in the hospital — this is called AROM or artificial rupture of membranes.


I put this as all caps because I know this feeling.  You just sort of want it to happen like it did in the movies, so you’ll know you’re in labor.  The thing is, we just have no idea when it will break.  So try to just chill at home (and I know that is a lot harder to do than it was to type).

I have a whole quiz on how to tell if your water broke that you might like.

But, can I just say it again that we want to know if your water does break.  You need to call your doctor if you have any concerns about rupture of the membranes.  This is a VERY normal phone call and they can quickly help you assess it at home.  If you can’t get hold of them you can go to the hospital.  The delivery nurse can also do a test to see if your water broke or if it’s normal bodily fluids.  It is much safer to know than to guess.

I love that you’re getting prepared on what to expect. I love birth preparation, it’s a passion of mine — and so is simplifying things so you can understand it quickly and easily. Come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples where we do just that!

Or, if you’re not quite ready for the full class, check out my free prenatal class — It’s your first step towards being your own birth boss.

And, don’t miss my blockbuster post all about the signs of labor over on my sister site!

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