Are you tired of wondering if you have signs of labor approaching? I know you’re tired; I felt the same as I waited for all four of my babies. I’m going to tell you the signs labor is 24 to 48 hours away; you need to know.
After four children, I know all about labor and what our bodies do in the hours and days beforehand. Some women have more obvious signs, like losing their mucus plug, but not everyone is so lucky. One of my first labor signs was simply being in a horrible mood for hours before my first contraction.
My body tried to tell me that something was about to happen, and chances are, your body will show you signs that your body is getting ready for labor.
Let’s look at common and less obvious signs of labor approaching.
Get READY, Mama! 13 Signs That Labor is 24-48 Hours Away
Most women look back and remember signs that labor is 24-48 hours away. Our bodies give us clues that something is about to happen, but not all signs are as obvious as your water breaking.
Only about 15% of women experience a rupture of their amniotic sac as their first sign of labor. That means chances are larger that you’ll have other signs, perhaps some of the less common signs of labor.
Here are the signs that labor is near to you.
1. Loss of Mucus Plug
A woman’s body creates a mucus plug, which is literally a plug at the end of her cervix. Its purpose is to stop harmful germs and bacteria from reaching your baby. Protecting your baby until it’s time for labor and delivery is vital.
As labor approaches, your cervix starts to efface and dilate, allowing the mucus plug to fall out. Many women notice it, but it’s possible you won’t. For some, the plug drops into the toilet in one piece, or bits and pieces slowly fall out.
Don’t pack your bags yet, though!
Losing your mucus plug doesn’t mean labor will for sure start. It can regenerate if it comes out too early. It simply means that your cervix is starting to dilate, which is exciting!
2. Increased Vaginal Discharge and Bloody Show
Many women report that they had an increase in vaginal discharge. It could be more white or thick mucus, but some also notice that their discharge is brownish or pinkish. This is sometimes called a “bloody show” if you have vaginal discharge mixed with blood.
Note that a bloody show is not the same as your mucus plug. The terms are not interchangeable. Having a bloody show is a serious sign that labor is 24-48 hours away! Your body is getting ready for labor.
3. Baby Drops or “Engagement”
Does your belly suddenly look lower than it did before? That might signify that your baby is dropping or engaging in your pelvis.
When your baby drops, the weight of your baby stops pressing on your diaphragm, so you quickly feel like you can breathe so much better. On the flip side, now that your baby is pushing down into your pelvis, you might have to pee more than ever before.
You probably didn’t think it was possible to pee more, but now you realize you were wrong!
4. Increased Braxton Hicks Contractions
Braxton Hicks are practiced contractions that feel like the tightening or hardening of the uterus. As you get closer to labor, you might notice these increases.
In the two days leading up to the birth of my second child, I was exhausted from Braxton Hicks. I knew something was up when my body kept having these contractions!
Well, Braxton Hicks are practicing contractions. As your body prepares for labor in 24-48 hours, it only has a few more hours to practice and get it right before showtime. Your uterus tightens and hardens, preparing for your baby’s birth.
Soon, the real show will begin, but for now, Braxton Hicks will continue to be more frequent than before.
5. Slight Weight Loss
You would only notice this if you weigh yourself daily or go to the doctor right before you go into labor, but some women report a very slight weight loss right before labor.
The loss of a few pounds is due to mothers having lower amounts of amniotic fluid at the end of their pregnancies. You also might increase your activity level at the end of your pregnancy as you prepare for the birth of your baby. When you urinate more, it also means you weigh less.
6. Loose and Frequent Bowel Movements
Many women report that they had loose, frequent bowel movements before labor, including my best friend, who is a mother of three kids.
She said, “The day before I had my second child, I needed to use the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if I was coming down with a stomach bug, but my midwife assured me it’s a common sign of impending labor.”
Doctors believe these bowel movements happen because your body loosens and empties the bowels to allow your uterus to contract effectively. All your muscles receive an extra dose of relaxin in the hours and days leading up to labor, including your rectum muscles.
7. Back Pain
Trust me, back labor is real, and it’s not fun. Discomfort in your lower back can be an early sign of labor, but it’s hard to tell the difference between pre-labor back pains and normal back pain that all pregnant women experience.
The most obvious difference is that the pain will only be persistent in your lower back. Sometimes, it will expand to your stomach, giving you that annoying, premenstrual cramping feeling.
Also, a bit of Tylenol or a heating pad will take away the regular back pain, but if it’s a sign that your baby time is nearing, it might mean that baby
8. Sense of Fatigue
Another common symptom of impending labor that I know I experienced before was a severe sense of fatigue. I was exhausted, even though all I did was get up and make a cup of coffee. I felt like I needed to sleep all day long.
9. Loosening of Joints
Some women never realized that one of the signs that labor is 24-48 hours away is loosening joints.
At the end of pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which loosens the joints and ligaments. It helps your body prepare for labor and delivery.
It’s one of the signs your body is getting ready for labor; your body knows you need looser, relaxed joints throughout your pelvis and lower back to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal.
10. Cramping and Pressure in the Pelvic or Rectal Area
You might notice a sensation of building pressure or cramping in your rectal area. That can be a common sign of labor!
Here’s a quick story.
When I was pregnant with my third child, I woke up one morning and felt like he was about to fall out. I had so much pressure in my pelvic region; it felt like he might push out of my vagina if he tried enough.
Now, that’s not possible, but it is a sign that labor is 24-48 hours away. Pelvic pressure happens before birth as the baby drops into the pelvic area, leading to more pressure.
11. Increased “Nesting” Feeling
On the flip side, some women have a burst of energy and don’t want to leave anything unfinished at home before the baby arrives. You do need to be careful that you don’t accidentally overdo it. You’ll need to have the energy for when you go into labor.
12. Water Breaking
Most women don’t experience water breaking BEFORE contractions start, but it can happen. My sister’s water broke at 1 AM, and she had no contractions until 7 AM.
However, if it happens to you, it’s a sure sign that labor will start in 24-48 hours. Your amniotic fluid cushions and protects your baby in the amniotic sac. Once your water breaks, babies need to be born within 1-2 days to avoid infections.
Remember, this isn’t normal. Around 80% of women don’t experience their water breaking until contractions already started. The other 20% feel contractions within a few hours after their water breaks.
The only way that you’ll know if your cervix is dilating is if your doctor checks during one of your office visits. When you’re between 37-40 weeks, your OBGYN or midwife might offer to check to see if you have any progress. It’s important not to get hung up on these numbers, though! You can be 3cm dilated for weeks or go into labor that night when you were 1cm dilated that morning.
Can Prelabor Last for Days?
Yes! Your body doesn’t have an internal clock, so it might go into labor just a few hours after your early labor signs start, or it could last for days. Doctors tell women that this phase of labor can last from six hours to three days. Nobody knows why there is such a length difference, but it tends to be longer if this is your first pregnancy.
Does Frequent Urination Mean Labor Is Close?
Most women report that they do experience frequent urination as labor gets closer. This is often because the baby drops into position in the pelvis, which is called dropping or engagement, as mentioned above.
As your baby drops more into your pelvis, he presses more on your bladder, which causes you to feel like you need to urinate more. Instead of making breathing difficult, you suddenly feel like you have to pee all the time.
Now, not all women experience this sign, or you might urinate so much to start with that you don’t notice a marked difference.
The Differences Between False Labor vs. Real Labor
False labor and real labor have some significant differences, and most of them center around contractions. Contractions are the star of the show when it comes to labor, and it’s how you can determine whether or not you’re having false or real labor pains.
When women have false labor, they’re having Braxton Hicks contractions. Here are some ways that these differ from real labor contractions.
- They’re irregular and don’t become trackable. Over time, they do subside.
- Braxton Hicks won’t increase in strength or frequency. They stay the same.
- These contractions subside or stop altogether if you get up and move around.
Most women are going to experience Braxton Hicks contractions throughout their labor. It’s essential to understand the differences. So, how do you know that real labor is starting? Here are some signs that you’re having real labor contractions.
- They become time-able. Try using a contraction timer; you’ll see a contraction every 10 minutes. Then, you’ll see that they gradually get closer together. That means they’re the real deal.
- They become more painful. At first, you might wonder if it’s a contraction, but as they get faster, they get more painful. There is no mistaking the feeling!
- If you move around, they don’t stop or go away. These contractions are here to stay until your baby arrives.
When Should I Go to the Hospital?
It’s best not to head to the hospital as soon as you feel contractions start. Instead, you do need to wait.
This is important:
Most doctors recommend you go to the hospital when your contractions are five minutes apart. Before this time, it’s best to labor at home. You can have something to eat, walk around the neighborhood, bounce on your birthing ball, and rest as much as humanly possible.
Once the contractions start to come together faster, it’s time to grab your maternity bag and head to the hospital. You should also go to the hospital if your water breaks, whether or not you have contractions. Don’t rush. You have time to grab a shower or eat a meal before heading to the hospital, but you don’t want to wait at home and risk developing an infection.
How Long Before Labor is Active Labor?
There is no definite time before your early labor signs turn into active labor. Each woman will experience different signs and lengths of labor. Your cervix might start to dilate and efface for a few weeks before the birth of your baby, or it could start all at once.
You will notice that those pre-labor signs will gradually turn into early labor. Early labor is the time when you are 0-3cm. You might have contractions that come every 10 minutes, a bloody show, back pain, and other signs of labor. This stage can last 8-16 hours before transitioning to active labor.
There are several signs of early labor. These signs might start several hours or a day before active labor begins.
- Increase in back pain and cramps
- More Braxton Hicks than normal
- Feeling overly emotional
- Feeling like you’re getting sick
- More vaginal discharge
- Sudden and complete exhaustion
Active labor begins when you reach 3cm dilated until you’re 7cm dilated. Then, the next stage of labor is called transition, which lasts between 8-10cm. When you reach 10cm, it’s time to push, and your baby will be there before you know it.
How do you feel 24 hours before labor?
It’s different for everyone, and to illustrate this best, here are 7 friends of mine to tell you their tales of 24 hours before labor.
“I was in my 38th week, almost 39th, and so uncomfortable. But my mom insisted on taking me shopping for a few things. We were having a great time and I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary with how I was feeling. I mean, I was tired and feeling hugely pregnant, but I was used to it. I went to go pee for the 80th time, and while Mom was standing by the mirrors at this restaurant we stopped at for lunch, I heard this pop kind of sound and kind of felt something not painful, but that seemed to go with that pop. I wouldn’t have thought a thing of it, but my mom heard it too, and she said, ‘Oh my God, you’re going into labor.’ I told her she was ridiculous. She insisted I wait there while she ran across the mall to where her car was parked. While I was waiting, I called my husband to tell him she’d finally gone bonkers when I felt a contraction. Then I knew that maybe Mom was right about this. She took me to the hospital, and by then, my contractions were coming on pretty strong. I was already 6cm dilated!”— Jacinda, Preschool Teacher
“They had to induce me. This kid did NOT want to come out. Like at all. I was in so much discomfort at the end that I was relieved when my doctor said we were getting this kid out. But the induction didn’t work, and I had to have an emergency c-section because I wouldn’t dilate enough. I’m sorry that’s not all that exciting, but that’s my story.”— Marti, Loan Interviewer
“I noticed this wetness in my underwear. I thought I was experiencing incontinence as I’d pee a little when I laughed, sneezed, or coughed throughout my pregnancy. So when my underwear was a little wet, I assumed it was more of the same. My husband and I went out to dinner, and I just shoved a pad in my underwear. While we were mid-meal, I suddenly had my first contraction. It was a whole scene where I screamed, and everyone looked over, and my husband realized I was going into labor. The restaurant was great though…they packaged up our meal and sent us a congratulations card over at the hospital. This was several years ago, and now we go in there as a family.”— Allison, Desk Clerk
“For my first child, I had no idea I was in labor. None. I went to my weekly appointment with my OB, and she sent me to the delivery room. But for my second child, I woke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. And as I settled back down into the bed, I felt what I thought might be a contraction. No sooner than I started to fall asleep, boom! Another one. And then 10 minutes later, another. They kept coming, but they were still far apart. So I went and showered, put on makeup, then called my parents to come to pick up our son and woke my husband to tell him it was baby time.”— Rebecca, Volunteer
“I am CEO of my agency which I know you know, but your readers don’t, and it’s important because I should have been resting, but we had a new client I was trying to impress. I felt it was important for me to be at this meeting. I was 38 weeks along, and in the middle of this board room with all eyes on me and my spiffy Powerpoint, my water broke. It splashed out, and there was no concealing what happened. I was absolutely mortified. Other than that, I had felt nothing else. I could pinpoint no other unusual things that would have clued me in. I will say everyone was amazing, and this client has become one of our best. I’m pregnant again now, and the jokes keep coming. This time, I’ll be taking time off toward the end of my pregnancy.”— Bella, CEO
“My labor story is like something from a movie. My husband’s family and my family were all visiting for the holidays. Both sides of the family were arguing about everything, particularly how to make empanadas. My mom was yelling at my husband’s mom about what she was putting in hers, and it was just such noise. The baby was kicking me a lot, and hard too. Both my mom and my husband’s mom insisted I eat this or that, and I was so pregnant I felt too full to get anything down. Normally I love spicy things, but this really got to me, and I suddenly threw up all over the kitchen. Now the moms were bickering about it’s your fault, no it’s your fault, and so on, and my husband was desperately trying to keep the peace. Then, I felt this pain which later I found out was contractions. I sat down because I felt a bit off, and it felt like something was piercing me down there. Long story short, my husband put me in the car and took me to the hospital. Turns out, I was fully dilated, and somehow, that baby came out within an hour. I never expected that since everyone I know had spent hours in labor. My own sister was in labor for well over 24 hours, and she still jokes that I’m lucky I had the express labor!”— Maria, Homemaker
“When I look back, I see the signs of labor after having my baby. But at the time, I had no idea this was what it was. I had diarrhea, but I assumed it was from something I ate. I also had leakage, but I thought it was pee at the time. So I was getting ready to meet a friend of mine, and suddenly I felt this weird feeling in my pelvis. When I went to the bathroom, there was a little blood. I called my friend who already had 3 kids that she’d just dropped at school, and she screamed she’d be right there. She got here, and I started having contractions. I called my OB from the car, and she said to get to the hospital. We realized we had forgotten my hospital bag. It was ridiculous. My husband was away on business and mid-flight when this happened, so when he landed, he had like 20 messages from everyone, including me telling him I was giving birth. He had to turn right around once he landed and come back home to meet our first baby.”— Helena, Legal Assistant
What triggers actual labor to start?
Your body will not go into labor until it and your baby are ready. There are hormones released by the baby that signal to your body’s hormones that it’s time. This hormone is oxytocin. In more recent research, it has been found that melatonin may also impact your labor to begin, which explains why many moms go into labor at night. Most of the time, your labor will start only when your body and baby are ready.
How do I know if I’m dilating?
You may not know at all, though it does feel like the kind of cramps you have during your period. These will be low in your uterus, just like those menstrual cramps. However, when contractions truly begin, they are more intense than those cramps. You probably won’t realize that you’re dilating at all, though since you must go to your checkups once a week as you approach your due date, your doctor will physically check to see if you are dilated.
Can I go into labor without losing my mucus plug or having my water break?
Yes, both of these scenarios are completely possible. Some moms lose the mucus plug after they go into labor with other labor symptoms. For other moms, the loss of the mucus plug is the first thing they notice.
Does labor start suddenly?
Sometimes it starts suddenly and quickly, but other times, labor is prolonged, with those initial early signs coming up several days before or even weeks before. Many moms do not even notice some of these signs. They only realize it in hindsight after the birth, looking back at what happened to their delivery.
Where will I feel contractions?
You will feel contractions in your back and lower abdomen. It feels like pressure in your pelvis and can radiate from front to back and vice versa. The best way to describe it is like really severe menstrual cramps. They get more intense the closer you get to deliver your baby. Other moms have reported that their contractions come in waves and feel like the kind of cramps you have when you’re suffering from diarrhea.
Your body will start showing you signs that labor is 24-48 hours away, but you need to pay attention to your body to catch those signs. It’s easy to miss some of these signs unless you’re in tune with your body.
Hey, this is Linda. My biggest accomplishment in life is being a mother of four children. Their current ages range from almost ten years old down to 20 months old.
I’m passionate about writing parenting articles because I understand so well all of the problems and trials you face as a parent. From breastfeeding woes to budgeting problems and behavior problems, along with everything in between, chances are I’ve faced it over the last ten years. Read more about Linda here.