We all know what will happen when our water breaks thanks to the silver screen. We’ll be woken from a peaceful slumber by a painful contraction, and then we’ll be calling out to our partner from the dark bathroom as we stand in a clear puddle, our eyes wide with expectation. Believe it or not, you might not be gushing liquid when your water breaks. In fact, your water might not even break at all when you go into labor. Often, a gush or a trickle of fluid is a sign that the amniotic sac has opened in preparation for birth. However, birth can just as easily start without this show of fluid, so it’s important that you’re prepared either way.

When a woman’s water breaks, the amniotic fluids surrounding her baby flow out of her vagina as the body opens up for birth. These fluids have been protecting the baby for the past nine months, so they are rarely clear and odorless. If you’re not sure whether or not the fluids are actually a result of your water breaking or are simply a leaky bladder, you’ll know right away if you smell them. Assuming you’re relatively familiar with the scent of urine, the smell of amniotic fluid is noticeably different. It is slightly sweeter, and the mark it would leave on clothing is a darker yellow. This graphic description is probably cluing you into why they don’t usually show the details of water breaking in the movies. A clear puddle on the ground is much more relatable than a scented surprise in your pants, but you should be ready for the reality of the situation. Since your bladder is probably leaky during your pregnancy to begin with, it might take a moment or even a few hours to realize that the moist feeling is a sign of labor as opposed to a minor accident.

Every woman’s labor is different. Yours will be different than your mother’s, and hers was different than her mother’s. If you wait for the moment your water breaks to head to the hospital, you might miss some important signs that you’ve gone into labor. Your water might not break at all during pregnancy. If it does, it might not be gushing like you’ve seen in the movies. It might be a slow trickle that feels no different than urination. Instead, be aware of intense contractions.

Source: Julio Mateus et al: Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes: Clinical Outcomes of Late Preterm Infants. Pediatrics Volume 49 Issue 1 pp. 60-65 January 2010