Every mom can tell you that the final days before you have your baby is full of wondering and anxiousness. Each time you have a twinge of pain or a weird feeling, you wonder if its a sign that labor is 24-48 hours away.
Part of it is because the early signs of labor are vague and can easily be missed, and the other part is that we are so ready to meet our new baby! You’ve waited so long now, and you don’t want to wait any longer. So, you find yourself wondering if that cramp is the start of contractions, or is your stomach upset from those tacos you had for lunch.
So, if you’ve reached that point and hope labor is 24-48 hours away, here is what you need to know.
Table of Content
- The 11 Signs That Labor is 24-48 Hours Away
- Can Prelabor Last for Days?
- Does Frequent Urination Mean Labor Is Close?
- The Differences Between False Labor vs. Real Labor
- When Should I Go to the Hospital?
- How Long Before Labor is Active Labor?
- Final Thoughts
The 11 Signs That Labor is 24-48 Hours Away
It’s important to note that all of the signs of labor won’t happen in order, and there is no guarantee that you’ll experience all of them. Some might take place on the same day, or the signs could be spread out for a few days.
Increased Vaginal Discharge
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 “bloody show” if you have vaginal discharge mixed with blood.
You might also lose pieces of your mucus plug as your cervix opens more with dilation. It can look like mucus or snot in chunks coming out of your vagina.
Baby Drops or “Engagement”
Does your belly suddenly look lower than it did before? That might be a sign 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!
Increased Braxton Hicks Contractions
Braxton Hicks are practice contractions that feel like the tightening or hardening of the uterus. As you get closer to labor, you might notice that these start to increase. 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!
Slight Weight Loss
You would only notice this if you weigh yourself daily or you 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.
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 kept needing to use the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if I was coming down with a stomach bug or not, but my midwife assured me that it’s a common sign of labor impending.”
Doctors believe that these bowel movements happen because your body loosens and empties the bowels to allow your uterus to contract effectively.
Trust me, back labor is a real thing, 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 be persistent and only in your lower back. Sometimes, it will expand to your stomach, giving you that annoying, premenstrual cramping feeling.
Also, a bit of Tylenol or 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
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.
Cramping in 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!
Increased “Nesting” Feeling
On the flip side, some women have a burst of energy, and they 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.
Most women don’t experience their 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.
In case you are wondering about some non-traditional signs of labor, read those here.
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 difference in length, but it does tend 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 it difficult to breathe, 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 labor pains 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.
- If you get up and move around, these contractions subside or stop altogether.
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, and you’ll start to see that every 10 minutes or so, you have a contraction. 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 come faster, they do 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 that 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.
Now, 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 do have time to grab a shower or eat a meal before you head 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 that it takes before your early labor signs will turn into active labor. Each woman will experience different signs and length 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.
What you will notice is 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 and bloody show, along with back pain and other signs of labor. This stage can last from 8-16 hours before transitioning to active labor.
Active labor begins when you reach 3cm dilated until you’re 7cm dilated. Then, the next stage of labor is called transition, and that lasts between 8-10cm. When you reach 10cm, it’s time to push, and your baby will be there before you know it.
Your body will start to show you signs that labor is 24-48 hours away, but you do 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.