Q: What happens if my water breaks too early? Does it mean I'll have to deliver my baby right away?
A: Water breaking is a normal part of going into labor, but if it happens before your baby's ready to be born, the condition is called premature rupture of the membranes (PROM), which affects up to 10 percent of pregnant women. The main symptom is fluid that may either trickle or gush from your vagina. If this happens before 37 weeks, it's called preterm PROM; this occurs in up to 3 percent of pregnancies. Having PROM or preterm PROM can lead to complications and may cause you to go on bed rest, but it doesn't necessarily mean your baby will be born right away.
The biggest risk from PROM is infection, since amniotic fluid prevents bacteria and other germs from infecting your baby. Once those membranes are broken, your baby is more vulnerable, and so your doctor will most likely have you go to the hospital where he or she can check you out and decide what to do next.
If you're near your due date (more than 34 weeks) you might go into labor on your own, or your doctor might decide to induce labor to minimize the risk of infection. Babies this age are usually born totally fine without any complications.
If your water breaks before 34 weeks, your doctor will probably give you antibiotics to fend off potential infections, plus steroids to help your baby's lungs develop. You may have to stay in the hospital to be monitored for signs of labor. Once you reach 34 weeks, your doctor will check to see that your baby's lungs are mature, and if they are, your baby will most likely be delivered then.
Although the causes of PROM aren't fully understood, certain women are more at risk, like those who smoke, are pregnant with twins or multiples, or have conditions like high blood pressure. Seeing your doctor regularly can help your doctor spot and treat issues that may increase your risk.