Leaking amniotic fluid can be a sign that you’re close to delivering. It can also be a sign that something is amiss, which may prompt a call to your doctor.
At the end of my pregnancy, there was a lot going on “down there.” From the gradual loss of the mucus plug to slight urine leakage from laughing too hard, it got harder and harder to determine if I was leaking amniotic fluid or simply going through the trials of pregnancy.
I never actually leaked amniotic fluid until the night my water broke while watching The Notebook for the gazillionth time. However, it was one of the signs of impending labor that I kept an eye out for those last few weeks.
So how exactly can you tell if you’re leaking amniotic fluid?
“If you’re leaking amniotic fluid or your water has broken, the fluid is likely to saturate your underwear or panty liner over and over again,” says Mary Murry, certified nurse-midwife at Mayo Clinic. “The fluid may be clear or contain white flecks, perhaps tinged with blood or mucus. It isn’t likely to smell, however.”
You may also notice some other red flags. With amniotic fluid, you probably won’t have any control over the flow, unlike urine. It may start as a gush followed by a slow leak of water, or it could simply trickle from the start. If there’s a brownish or greenish tint to the fluid, contact your doctor immediately as this can be a sign that the baby had a bowel movement in utero.
What the Experts Say
Amniotic fluid is an essential substance that surrounds and protects your little one during those long nine months in utero. As you near the end of pregnancy, some women leak amniotic fluid shortly before delivering. If you’re not yet ready to deliver, an amniotic fluid leak could mean the start of premature labor.
No matter how far along you are in pregnancy, leaking amniotic fluid requires a prompt call to your doctor. Of course, it’s not always easy to tell if what you’re leaking is actually amniotic fluid.
Here’s what some experts have to say about it.
“The way to tell whether you’re leaking amniotic fluid and not urine is by taking the sniff test: If it smells like ammonia, it’s probably urine. If it has a somewhat sweet smell, it’s probably amniotic fluid (unless it’s infected; then the fluid will be more foul smelling).”
Heidi Murkoff, Sharon Mazel, What to Expect When You’re Expecting
“Loss of amniotic fluid may occur as leaking or a gush from the vagina. Leaking may mean that you’ve developed a small hole in the sac high in your uterus and amniotic fluid is leaking out. If your underwear feels damp and you notice leaking when walking or changing position, let your caregiver know.”
Penny Simkin, Janet Whalley, Ann Keppler, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide
“One way to tell is to wear a sanitary pad. If the pad quickly becomes soaked, your water has probably broken.”
Maggie Blott, Pregnancy Day by Day
“If you have a very thin, watery discharge that doesn’t smell at all like urine, and if you suspect that it’s your amniotic fluid leaking, call your caregiver right away. If your membranes are leaking, it means that they’ve ruptured and your risk of infection goes up, just as it does when the membranes break with more of a gush.”
Joel M. Evans, Robin Aronson, The Whole Pregnancy Handbook
“How can you tell whether you are losing amniotic fluid or urine? Doing your Kegels should stop the flow of urine, but amniotic fluid will continue to trickle out despite your efforts to stop it.”
Adrienne B. Lieberman, Linda Hughley Holt, Nine Months and a Day: A Pregnancy and Birth Companion
When Leaks Cause Complications
Amniotic fluid leaks at any stage in pregnancy can cause complications. Leaks that occur during the first and second trimester can result in a miscarriage or stillborn. Fluid leaks can also contribute to the poor development of the infant and organ systems. If you are not due yet, infection can set in.
Sometimes if a tear in the amniotic sac is small, it will heal on its own. However, larger tears require treatment to avoid serious complications from developing. If the mother is near full-term, the doctor will usually initiate labor within 48 hours of the leak. If the mother is not full-term, the doctor will try to delay labor as long as reasonably possible.
Leaking Other Fluids
If you’ve determined that you’re not actually leaking amniotic fluid, you may be wondering what the unknown fluid actually is. Urine leakage is quite common during pregnancy. You may leak urine when too much pressure from your growing uterus is placed on the bladder.
You may also be leaking discharge. During your pregnancy, mucus is secreted in the cervical area resulting in increased vaginal discharge. More discharge is common in the third trimester.
If you believe you are experiencing an amniotic fluid leak, inform your doctor as soon as possible. Take note of the time you start to experience the leak and try to evaluate the quantity of fluid. If your doctor suspects a leak, he may perform an ultrasound to check your amniotic fluid levels.