Premature rupture of membranes refers to the breaking of waters before the onset of labor. 'Preterm' means the rupture occurs prior to 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
It often happens due to infection - the commonest cause. Other causes include secondary to the onset of delivery pains, over distended wombs (excess water or twins) and medical disorders complicating pregnancy. Sometimes, no cause may be found.
A sudden gush of fluid from the birth passage often without warning is the first evidence of PPROM. The leakage could be in small quantities where it may be mistaken initially for urine. Early identification is important as associated infections need to be treated and in some cases premature labor pains may start.
Prevention strategies have been futile in most cases. Infections - urinary or genital tract if identified early need to be treated.
There is no way to stop the leaking of fluid. Treatment depends on when the leaking starts, how immature the baby is and presence of infections or medical problems in the mother. If membranes rupture very early in pregnancy - fifth or sixth month, a conservative approach is taken and often leaking stops on its own. Leaking after the completion of the eighth month however tilts the favor towards an early delivery. A short course of steroids is often prescribed to accelerate lung maturity in the preterm baby.