At 40 weeks pregnant, I woke up at 3am and felt like I was peeing my pants. Just like in the movies, I turned to my husband and said, "I think this is it!" We called the hospital, and they told us to pack our bags and come on in.
When we got there, they confirmed that, yes, my water had broken. It was now 5am on November 9, and I figured this would be my daughter's birthday. I could never have guessed that she would be born at 4pm on November 11, more than 60 hours after my water broke.
Before this experience, I thought a woman had to have her baby within 24 hours of her water breaking. For the uninitiated, when your water breaks, there is a rupture in the amniotic sac that surrounds and protects the baby. The sac is filled with fluid, which will continue to replenish and leak from the sac once it breaks.
When my mum had me, her water broke before contractions, and the hospital induced her a few hours later to avoid infection. I always assumed that would happen to me if my water broke before contractions kicked in. However, because I gave birth in Paris, France, under a different medical system, the protocol was different — and I'm glad it was.
Because France has better infant and maternal outcomes than the US, I felt comfortable following the medical advice I received there. Instead of experiencing an induced labour on the first day, I was able to spend time at the hospital mentally preparing, while also giving my body a chance to kick into gear on its own. Everything felt relaxed and not rushed. And my husband and I took advantage of our last child-free moments to simply hang out, watch movies, and get some final things in order.
How soon should you have your baby after your water breaks?
While it didn't happen to me, 50 percent of women will naturally start having contractions within 24 hours of their water breaking, according to Dr Iffath Hoskins, clinical associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health.
If contractions don't start within that window, doctors in the US typically start intervening. "Although the 24-hour deadline is not a hard and fast rule, the clock does start ticking for an increased rate of infection inside the uterus," she told me. This infection could affect the baby or the mother. Dr Haskins said that doctors in the US will consider various factors to determine whether to induce a woman after her water breaks. Those include:
- If approximately 12-14 hours have elapsed and she has not gone into labour herself.
- If she shows signs of infection or other evidence of compromising the baby.
In my experience in France, the doctors were more concerned about the second factor. In order to address the concern of infection, they gave me antibiotics after my water broke and drew my blood to test for any issues. And they came in to monitor the baby every three hours.
As long as I didn't show signs of infection or foetal distress, they were not going to give me pitocin unless contractions didn't start for 48 hours.
So how did I end up delivering my daughter more than 60 hours after my water broke? On day one, I just waited. Nothing happened. On day two, still no contractions. So they gave me Cervidil to help my cervix dilate. A long 18 hours after that, my contractions finally started. And after 16 more hours, my baby was born.
Dr Hoskins said that approach was OK — versus a C-section — since I was progressing well with no evidence of infection. "There is no hard and fast rule that X number of hours is bad or worrisome," she explained. As with everything pregnancy or parenting related, each woman and child is different. And I'm happy I had the chance to safely do things my way.