Ruptured membranes sometimes occur during pregnancy, when the sacs containing amniotic fluid break. The sac near the cervix can burst before or during labor due to the pressure of contractions. The breakage usually causes a small gush of fluid from the vagina, resulting in the term breaking water. In some cases, the membranes can rupture before a woman is at full term, a condition called premature rupture of membranes.
This condition is often one of the earliest signs of labor, and is not usually dangerous for women who are at the end of their pregnancies. It is important for women to protect themselves and their babies from infection prior to delivery when the amniotic sac bursts. Sanitary maxi pads can help prevent the fluid from leaking. Wiping from front to back and keeping the vaginal area clean can also help ward off infection. Women should not have sexual intercourse if their membranes have burst.
Other fluids, including urine, can leak in pregnant women, so it is important for women to talk to their health care providers if they suspect they have ruptured membranes. A doctor can diagnose the condition by using a speculum to open the vagina and examine the cervix. Proper diagnosis is particularly important in the case of premature rupture of membranes since contractions can grow stronger and faster due to the increase of a hormone called prostaglandin, which is released when the amniotic sac bursts.
Most pregnant women who experience premature rupture of membranes deliver shortly afterward. Health care professionals usually monitor the mother and baby carefully to check for infection, fetal heart rate problems, and other complications. Babies born prematurely often require care in a special neonatal unit at a hospital or other health care facility, because they are often underdeveloped and may lack the ability to breathe on their own or fight off infection.
Doctors may give antibiotics to pre-term expectant mothers with ruptured membranes to help ward off infection. Corticosteroids can be given intravenously if the amniotic sac bursts prematurely and the baby needs to be delivered quickly. These drugs can help speed up the infant’s lung maturity to reduce the risk that the baby will have breathing problems after delivery.
Women who suspect they have ruptured membranes should contact their health care providers to determine how to handle the condition since every woman’s pregnancy is different. It is especially important to seek the advice of a doctor if the fluid is leaking at a rapid rate, if the mother experiences pain, or if the fluid is green or brown, since this can indicate that the baby had a bowel movement in the uterus, which can increase the risk of infection and complications.