How Does a Doctor Break Your Water?

Ever wondered what really happens during the common delivery technique of 'breaking the water'? It's no dumb question and our resident labor nurse has the answer.

How Does a Doctor Break Your Water? martin81/Shutterstock

One reader had a great question about a really common delivery technique. When her sister had a baby, the doctor broke her water bag before delivery and she wondered, "How do they break the water?" I've had hundreds of patients ask the same thing.

"Breaking the water" means the doctor or midwife makes a hole in the amniotic membrane that surrounds the baby. It's inside the uterus and the doctor/midwife reaches through the vagina and cervix to get to it. Here's the technique: We ask our patient to double up her knees and let them flop apart. Then, of course, we tell her to "relax." Funny, right? With a sterile glove on one hand, we put some lubricant on our index and middle fingers. We reach into the vagina until we find the inside edges of the cervix. If the cervix is opened enough that we can get a couple fingers through it, there's a good chance we can feel the amniotic membrane. It feels kind of like a wet, slippery balloon filled with water. We also feel carefully to make sure baby's head is down and well applied to the cervix to minimize the risk of the umbilical cord slipping through. That causes a whole lot of trouble.

If everything feels "right" the doctor/midwife then uses their other hand to slide an amnio-hook into the cervix. It looks just like a long, flat crochet hook. It's not sharp and won't hurt you or the baby. Once the hook is in there, it's just a matter of snagging a hole. Then—gush—out flows the water; sometimes a lot and sometimes very little. We make sure there are lots of towels and waterproof pads under Mom's butt to catch the flood. We check the color of the fluid to make sure it's clear of meconium (baby poop) or blood and that's it. The water's broken. It's generally a quick procedure and no more uncomfortable than a regular vaginal exam—no great treat but usually, no great trauma either.