Premature rupture of the membranes is the leaking of amniotic fluid from around the fetus before labor starts.
After the membranes rupture, labor often soon follows.
If labor does not begin within 6 to 12 hours, the risk of infections in the woman and fetus increases.
If the pregnancy is 34 weeks or more and the fetus’s lungs are mature, labor is usually started artificially (induced).
If the pregnancy is less than 34 weeks and the fetus's lungs are not mature enough, the woman is usually hospitalized, monitored closely, and given corticosteroids to help the fetus's lungs mature and given antibiotics to treat and prevent any infection that might trigger labor and/or harm the fetus.
If the pregnancy is less than 32 weeks, women may be given magnesium sulfate to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy.
Rupture of the membranes is commonly described as “the water breaks.” When the membranes break, the fluid within the membranes around the fetus (amniotic fluid) flows out from the vagina. The flow varies from a trickle to a gush. As soon as the membranes have ruptured, a woman should contact her doctor or midwife.
Usually, the fluid-filled membranes containing the fetus rupture during labor. But in about 10% of normal pregnancies, the membranes rupture before labor starts—premature rupture.
Premature rupture of the membranes may occur near the due date (at 37 weeks or later, when pregnancy is considered full term) or earlier (called preterm premature rupture if it occurs earlier than 37 weeks). If rupture is preterm, delivery is also likely to be too early (preterm).
Regardless of when premature rupture occurs, it increases the risk of problems such as
Infection of the uterus can cause a fever, a heavy or foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or abdominal pain.
If premature rupture results in premature birth, the newborn has an increased risk of the following:
When there is bleeding in the brain, the brain may not develop normally, causing problems such as cerebral palsy.
After the membranes rupture, contractions usually begin within 12 to 48 hours when the woman is near term but can take 4 days or longer if rupture occurs before 34 weeks of pregnancy.