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How To Tell The Difference Between Amniotic Fluid & Discharge

An OB-GYN explains the important differences.

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Thanks to the magic of Hollywood, many of us have come to believe that when people spontaneously go into labor, a massive gush of water comes out from between your legs at the worst possible moment, and it’s all very dramatic. Turns out, most of the time, your going-into-labor moment isn’t going to be like that. As you near the very end of your pregnancy, it suddenly becomes important to know how to tell the difference between amniotic fluid and discharge. We spoke to Dr. Kelli Burroughs, an OB-GYN at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, and Liesel Teen, a labor and delivery nurse, about when should you worry, and what water breaking actually feels like. Of course, if you are actively worried that you may be leaking amniotic fluid, that warrants an immediate call to your health care provider.

What’s the difference between amniotic fluid and discharge?

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Amniotic fluid is what cushions your baby and protects them while they’re in the womb. It fills the amniotic sack your baby is growing inside of the entire pregnancy. It is typically odorless and light or clear yellow in color. It also contains nutrients, hormones, antibodies and other fluids to keep your baby healthy. So there’s a huge difference between amniotic fluid and normal vaginal discharge — which does typically increase during pregnancy — but how can you tell which is which?

“Once amniotic fluid starts leaking, it is notorious for being continuous. Patients will commonly report multiple episodes of leakage in a short amount of time,” Burroughs says. “Discharge is more intermittent,” she says.

Consistency another way tell them apart, adds Teen. “Vaginal discharge is normally a lot stickier or slipperier, kind of like egg-whites, and amniotic fluid is generally the consistency of water,” she says. However, both Teen and Burroughs say that if you’re at all suspicious that you may be leaking amniotic fluid, you should contact your health care provider right away.

What does it feel like when your water breaks?

“Many patients (including me) experienced a sudden release of a water,” says Burroughs. “Like a water balloon popping followed by continuous leakage of fluid. Other patients will report a repetitive trickle, i.e., trickle of clear fluid, 30 minutes later another episode of continuous trickle, followed by more episodes of trickle.”

“For most women, the only way they know their water has broken is by the leakage of fluid,” Teen says. “However, a small percentage of women have told me that they felt a big pop in their belly right before their water broke!”

There are usually two different scenarios, Teen adds. Either a dramatic gush of fluid or a slow and steady trickle. “If all of the sudden you feel a huge gush and it feels like you peed your pants, your water may have just broken,” Teen says. “It usually doesn’t just stop with that one gush.”

What do you do if your water breaks

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If you suspect that your water has broken, contact your healthcare provider immediately, Teen says. For some women, their water breaks and labor doesn’t immediately begin, but for others, contractions immediately start happening as soon as their water breaks and they need to prepare for delivery ASAP.

Bottom line? Vaginal discharge is a normal part of pregnancy. However, if you’re worried at all — at any point in your pregnancy — that you may be leaking amniotic fluid, contact your health care provider right away.

Sources interviewed:

Dr. Kelli Burroughs, M.D., Department Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.

Liesel Teen, BSN, RN, a labor and delivery nurse and founder of Mommy Labor Nurse.

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