NBC News states that a baby can generally survive in the womb for up to 24 hours without risking infection after the mother's water breaks. However, the Daily Mail reports a case in which a woman's water broke prematurely at 16 weeks, and yet the baby survived and was carried to term.
It is generally believed that babies should be delivered within 24 to 48 hours after the mother's water breaks, NBC News explains. Often contractions start within that time period. If contractions do not start, labor is usually induced. However, recent research shows that babies not delivered within the specified amount of time are not any more likely to suffer from neonatal sepsis than those babies delivered within 24 hours of water breakage.
BabyCentre points out that women are usually given a choice to induce labor if the water breaks anywhere from the 34th to 40th week of pregnancy. However, women that have group B streptococcus are more likely to be urged to induce as soon as possible to prevent the bacteria from infecting the baby. Women who decide to wait for labor rather than inducing it after their water breaks need to have the baby monitored regularly, confirm that the baby is moving and check their own health. Any sign of infection needs to be followed up with a trip to the hospital.