After your water breaks (rupture of membranes), you will inevitably deliver your baby within one to seven days. How long it takes before your baby is born depends on whether you are at term or preterm, or if you are already in labor. Other factors include variation in the duration of labor among individuals, the state of your cervix, and the cause of the rupture of membranes. How long you can go after your water breaks will depend on where you are in the pregnancy and whether the risk of infection outweighs the risk of a preterm birth. However, if you are near or at term the timeframe is typically 24 hours before the risk of infection will set in.
Time to Delivery After Your Water Breaks
Ninety percent of women break their water at term during active labor, but your water can break before your pregnancy reaches term and before labor begins because of various causes. How soon your baby is born after your water breaks depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy and the following additional factors:
- Are you already in active labor?
- Is your cervix already favorable for progression of labor, that is, short and thin (effaced), or dilated?
- Is this your first delivery? The duration of labor is usually longer with the first baby.
- The duration of any previous labor and delivery is also of significance.
If your water breaks before term, your doctor or midwife might suggest delaying your baby's birth, depending on the weeks of your pregnancy.
Membrane Rupture at Term
When your water breaks at term - at or after the 37th week of your pregnancy - how soon before your baby is born depends on whether you are already in labor:
- If you are already in active labor, expect to proceed through the three stages of labor and deliver your baby within 24 hours, the average duration of normal labor and delivery.
- If you are not already in labor (pre-labor rupture of membranes):
- You will most likely start spontaneous labor within 24 hours.
- It might take more than 24 hours before your baby is born if your cervix is not already effaced or dilated.
- With an unfavorable cervix, the initial (latent) phase of your labor can last longer than the normal 10 to 19 hours, thus prolonging labor and delivery of your baby.
- If you don't go into spontaneous labor after your water breaks, the options your doctor or midwife will give you, according to a Cochrane Library review, are to induce you right away if your cervix is favorable or to wait a few hours to see if you start on your own.
Standard practice is to deliver a baby within 24 hours of rupture membranes at term because of the potential risk of maternal and fetal infection after that.
Preterm Membrane Rupture
If your water breaks before your reach 37 weeks (preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM), you will deliver your baby within 24 hours to seven days. How soon you will or should deliver your baby depends on the weeks of your pregnancy and any factors that contributed to your water breaking.
An Obstetrics and Gynecology journal article reviews your doctor's delivery decision-making when there is PPROM.
Between 34-37 weeks:
When the water breaks at 34 to 37 weeks, most of these babies will be born within 24-48 hours.
- If you are not in labor, your doctor will likely induce labor because at this stage of pregnancy, your baby has a better chance outside the uterus before infection starts.
- The risk of infection inside the uterus outweighs risk of your baby being born prematurely.
If there is infection already when you water breaks, you might go into labor before 24 hours.
Less than 34 weeks:
If your water breaks before the 34th week of your pregnancy, your baby will likely be born within a week. At less than 34 weeks, the risks to your baby of being born premature outweigh the risks of infection occurring. Therefore, the following decisions apply:
- Your doctor will try to delay labor and delivery until after 48 hours, if possible, to give your baby's lungs time to mature, unless there are already signs of infection.
- If there are signs of infection, labor will be induced earlier.
- While delaying delivery, your doctor will monitor your baby and might also:
- Give you steroids to mature your baby's lungs
- Give you antibiotics against the risk of infection in you or your baby
- Do a surfactant test, which measures the maturity of your baby's lungs
The risk of infection with its adverse maternal and fetal outcomes increase each day after rupture of membranes. Within the week of waiting, signs of infection might start to develop.
Delivery Is Inevitable After Water Breaks
Once your water breaks, delivery of your baby is inevitable. How soon your baby will be born after depends on specific, important factors that your doctor or midwife will consider. If your membranes rupture outside of the hospital, call your doctor or midwife or go to the hospital. Delaying delivery could put your baby and you at risk.