Having your water break is probably the most dramatic way to go into labor. It happens all of the sudden, it makes a huge mess and everyone around you kind of freaks out.
My water broke before I started contractions with both of my girls. The first time it happened I was at work in a room full of kids and a male co-worker. It was pretty mortifying.
The thing about your water breaking is that it feels a lot like you peed your pants. At the moment when my water broke, I was sitting down in a chair and I happened to sneeze. I felt a tiny popping sensation, and then realized that if I stood up, I was going to pee right there in the middle of the room. I didn’t know what else to do, so I stood up as fast as I could and sprinted to the bathroom.
It was a gigantic mess and of course I had no extra clothes. There was so much chaos; everyone (including my boss) kept knocking on the door to check on me and no one really knew how to handle the situation. They wound up getting me a towel to wrap around my waist and then my boss drove me home. It was one of the more awkward experiences of my life.
At the time, I didn’t really know that it was easy to mistake peeing your pants with your water breaking. Thank goodness that my water breaking was legit. How awkward would it have been to go to work the next day after all of that drama and tell everyone, “Sorry! False alarm, I just had a little accident yesterday.”
No thank you.
So how do you tell if your water broke or if you just peed?
What does your water breaking smell like?
Amniotic fluid smells quite a bit different than urine. It’s hard to describe, but you’ll hopefully be able to tell the difference! If you’re unsure whether the fluid coming out is pee or your water breaking, just give it a quick sniff and see if you can tell the difference!
What color is the amniotic fluid?
Pee is usually at least tinged yellow. Amniotic fluid is…not. It’s usually pretty clear. It can be hard to tell the difference, but if you’re wearing white panties or if you happened to be wearing a pad that day, you might be able to see if the fluid is yellow or not.
If your water breaks, the fluid will keep leaking out
If you accidentally pee your pants, it will probably just be one gush of fluid and then nothing else will come out. But that’s not how it is with your water breaking. If your water has broken, you’ll continue to have a trickle of fluid running out. For me it was a LOT. I was soaking through a pad in 30 minutes or less and I had to break out the adult diapers just so I could stay dry for a little longer! So if you’re not sure, just put a pad on and see what happens. You probably aren’t going to keep peeing yourself constantly for an hour, so check again after a little time has gone by.
Is there meconium in the fluid?
If the baby has his or her first poo while still inside the womb, it’s called meconium. So if the fluid you’re leaking has a greenish or brown tint to it, it’s probably meconium and therefore your water has definitely broken.
Meconium can be a sign that the baby is in distress, though, so be sure to let your doctor know. (There was meconium when my water broke the first time, but my baby was fine so it doesn’t always mean that something is wrong.)
Try Kegel exercises
If you’re continuing to leak, but you still aren’t sure if it’s amniotic fluid or pee, try doing a Kegel and holding it. If it’s amniotic fluid, you won’t be able to stop the flow, but you should be able to if it’s urine.
Your doctor can do a test to help you tell if your water broke or you peed.
If you think your water has broken, your doctor’s office will probably have you head in to the hospital to test for sure whether or not your water has broken. They can tell either by checking your pad (or depends in my case, ha!) or they might do a quick speculum test so they can look at the fluid under a microscope to tell if it’s amniotic fluid or not. Just know that the more cervical checks you have, the higher the risk of infection is. So ask your medical team to limit the number of checks they do on you!
I was a little offended the second time my water broke. I knew for sure that it was amniotic fluid (hello, not my first rodeo), but they insisted on doing the speculum test even though I told them I didn’t want to risk extra cervical checks. They threatened to send me home if I didn’t submit to the test. I knew I was positive for Strep B and needed antibiotics going after my water broke, so I let them do the test.
In hindsight, I wish I would’ve asked more questions before agreeing to the test. I was actively leaking fluid, so I could’ve asked them why they thought I was soaking through so many pads if my water hadn’t broken. I could’ve asked to speak to the doctor directly (he was only communicating with me through the nurses at that point) or asked them to try a little harder to swab my pad.
Now, it wound up being fine and I didn’t get an infection or anything. But I just really don’t like being pushed around by medical personnel when it comes to birth.
This is why having a doula is so valuable. A doula would’ve been there with me and been able to help me think through all of my options. She would’ve known what questions to ask. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to have a doula with me, but I encourage you to find one if you can!
I also talked to a labor and delivery nurse about this recently. She said that a lot of ladies come in thinking their water has broken when really they’ve just accidentally peed their pants. So I guess enough women are wrong that they can’t trust those of us who actually do know what we’re talking about. Bummer!
But hey! Now you know how to tell if your water is really broken or if you just peed, so you can avoid an unnecessary trip the hospital! You should always call your doctor to be sure though.As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.