Should You Try Breaking Your Own Water?

If their due date passes, some pregnant people may be tempted to break their own water. But is this really safe? We spoke with experts to find out.

pregnant in early 30s
Photo: Svetlana Iakusheva/Shutterstock

Forty weeks is a long time to manage annoying pregnancy symptoms, extra weight gain, and hormonal mood swings. That’s why some women get antsy if their due date passes without nary a contraction. They might want to encourage labor to begin by breaking their water themselves. But is this a safe method to move things along, and does it actually work? Here’s what expectant parents need to know.

Water Breaking During Pregnancy: What's Happening?

Your baby floats in a sac of amniotic fluid inside of your uterus. This fluid cushions your baby, promotes fetal development, and maintains a comfortable temperature inside of the womb. During the third trimester, the amniotic sac may rupture, causing fluid to leak through the cervix and vaginal canal, says Ashley Brichter, founder and CEO of Birth Smarter, which offers in-person and virtual childbirth classes for expectant parents. This is known as your water breaking, and it signals that your baby is coming soon.

Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, your water doesn't always break before labor starts, says Ami Burns, a childbirth educator and doula in Chicago and the founder of Birth Talk. Indeed, only 15 or 20 percent of women experience their water breaking before contractions. The remainder of the time, it happens during labor or delivery. “You could be in active labor, already at the hospital, and fully dilated before it breaks,” adds Burns.

How to Get Your Water to Break

Some women want to break their own water to help labor progress. Others wish to avoid an induction at the hospital, which doctors might suggest if the pregnancy progresses too long. (Prolonged pregnancy has been linked to negative side effects for the fetus, such as shoulder dystocia, placenta problems, infection, and fetal macrosomia.)

No matter the reason, though, breaking your own water is actually a bad idea. “Unless there’s a medical reason for your doctor to break your water or induce labor, let nature take its course,” Burns says. Here are some risk involved with breaking your own water:

  • Your baby might not be ready for delivery. Vital fetal development happens even in the last few weeks of pregnancy, so it often pays to be patient.
  • Putting a foreign substance in the amniotic sac can harm the fetus or cause infection.
  • Labor generally begins hours or days after your water breaks. However, it’s possible for labor to start right away, and you might be unprepared to deliver the baby.
  • Breech presentation (your baby is feet first) or other unexpected factors could complicate delivery.

It’s also vital to understand that, once the water does break, most doctors recommend delivering within 24 hours. Otherwise you risk an infection that can travel to the baby.

Breaking Your Water Safely

If your labor isn’t progressing, the doctor might want to break your water at the hospital. This procedure, called an amniotomy, usually involves rupturing the amniotic sac with a small hook. It’s generally safe under medical supervision.

To avoid an amniotomy, women might still want to encourage labor naturally at home. While you should never break your own water, you can try other labor induction methods. (Make sure to get your doctor’s permission first!) Here are some options that might be approved by your practitioner.

  • Helping your baby get into the proper position through postural work and low-impact exercises. For example, you can bounce, rock, or rotate your hips on a birthing ball, which opens your pelvis and softens the cervix. Going on a walk, keeping your feet parallel when standing, and performing pelvic tilts may also help. Read more about this natural labor induction technique here.
  • Having sex. Sperm contains cervix-softening prostaglandins, and female orgasms might spur contractions.
  • Stimulating your nipples to release oxytocin that could cause uterine contractions. Most doctors suggest doing this under medical supervision, since it could lead to fetal distress or overstimulation of the uterus.
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