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Are you pregnant and approaching your due day, and wondering what all the signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away are?
If you are 9 months pregnant and close to your due date, I bet you can’t wait for labor to start now and finally give birth to the (not so little anymore) baby growing inside of you 🙂
I gave birth at 40 weeks + 1 day and I remember being so uncomfortable the last couple of weeks of pregnancy. I could hardly sleep and my back was starting to hurt quite a lot. Plus I was also starting to get quite worried that I would get to 42 weeks and would be pressured into being induced. I really wanted to avoid that.
Not to mention I was excited to meet our second daughter. I literally couldn’t wait to give birth!
So I spend the last 2 weeks of pregnancy over-analyzing anything that was happening to me and my body, hoping for a glimpse of hope that labor was approaching soon.
- 1 The Different Stages of Labor
- 2 15 Signs that Labor is 24 to 48 Hours Away
- 2.1 1) WATER BREAKING
- 2.2 2) INCREASE BRAXTON HICKS CONTRACTIONS
- 2.3 3) LOOSE BOWEL MOTIONS / DIARRHEA
- 2.4 4) LOSS OF THE MUCUS PLUG
- 2.5 5) BLOODY SHOW
- 2.6 6) EXTREME NESTING
- 2.7 7) FATIGUE
- 2.8 8) LOWER BACK PAIN
- 2.9 9) SLIGHT WEIGHT LOSS
- 2.10 10) FREQUENT URINATION
- 2.11 11) CERVICAL DILATION
- 2.12 12) NAUSEA
- 2.13 13) LOOSE JOINTS
- 2.14 14) ENGAGED BABY
- 2.15 15) CRAMPING
- 3 How Long does Prelabor Last?
- 4 The Difference Between False Labor and Real Labor
- 5 When is it Time to go to Hospital?
- 6 Conclusion
The Different Stages of Labor
Before I dive into all the signs that labor is close, I’d like to make sure you understand what the different stages of labor are.
There’s three stages to labor and delivery:
- Stage 1: Labor
- Stage 2: Birth of the baby
- Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta
Labor begins when you start having contractions, allowing the baby to move into the birth canal. This first stage is the longest of the three stages and is actually split into two separate phases: early labor and active labor.
1) EARLY LABOR
Early labor is characterized by your cervix beginning to open and mild, irregular contractions. Its length is very unpredictable: it can last from hours to days! It’s usually longer for first time moms and shorter for subsequent children.
All the symptoms below are very likely to be experienced during earlier labor, if not before labor even started (called prelabor). If you presents with any of the signs below though, get ready to transition to active labor soon and give birth within the next 24 to 48 hours!
My early labor lasted for about 15 hours. I had my first contraction at 3 am in the morning, coming back every half an hour or so through the night. But during the day went down to a frequency of about an hour. It wasn’t until the early evening that they started picking up again and I transitioned to active labor.
2) ACTIVE LABOR
When you transition to active labor, your contractions will become stronger, more frequent and more regular. Your cervix will also dilate from 6 to 10 cm.
Active labor usually lasts four to eight hours. Sometimes even more. I was very lucky as mine lasted for about 3 hours. By the time my midwife came to check me at home I was already 7 cm, and I just had the time to get to hospital before I started feeling the need to push and entered the second stage of labor and delivery.
15 Signs that Labor is 24 to 48 Hours Away
So, now that you know what stages of labor are, let’s find our what the signs that labor is near are! And by “labor”, I mainly mean “active labor”. In fact, most of the signs listed below are typical of the “early labor” stage, when you already start feeling some contractions.
That said, these signs can also be experienced during prelabor, before contractions starts, and could be a very good indication that labor is approaching soon!
Unfortunately, there is no set rule with labor … you could be experiencing none of the signs below and still get into labor within the next 48 hours, or you could experience some of them but still have to wait for a few days. You also won’t necessarily be experiencing all of them: most people only experience some of these.
Let’s take a look at all of them in detail here.
1) WATER BREAKING
Water breaking is the typical sign that we tend to think about when we think of the beginning of labor. Probably due to all the dramatic scenes in movies where women tend to flood the floor … well, believe it or not, that is not how it usually happens!
First of all, only 15 to 20% of pregnant women experience their water breaking before labor starts. Second of all, it’s more likely to be a small trickle of fluid, instead of a big gush of water.
In fact, it’s not always easy to tell if your water has broken, or if you are just experiencing some vaginal discharge. Or if you just peed a bit in your underwear (which can also happen at 40 weeks pregnant!) 🙂
To tell the difference, know that amniotic fluid from your water breaking is a pale, straw-colored and odorless fluid. Vaginal discharge, on the other hand, is a thin, milky-white mucus that’s similar to what you might experience in between periods. And you’ll know if its urine or not the moment your smell it!
Once your water breaks, contractions are very likely to start very soon (unless they’ve already started)! If contractions don’t start, you might get an induction to get things moving and avoid any infection.
My water broke incredibly late: I was already in the second stage of labor and delivery, feeling the need to push my baby out! I sat for a moment on a swiss ball in between contractions, and was still dressed as things evolved so quickly by the time I got to hospital. My water broke all over my pants and the ball … it felt like I peed myself!
2) INCREASE BRAXTON HICKS CONTRACTIONS
Braxton Hicks contractions, also called “false labor” because they give you the sensation of having labor contractions, can start weeks or months before actual labor (usually any time in the third trimester). They are the result of you uterine muscles preparing for delivery. However, they’re typically milder than actual labor contractions and only last a few seconds.
Brexton Hicks contractions do tent to increase in frequency and intensity near the end of pregnancy, so if you are starting to feel tired with all these contractions, be optimistic in knowing that real labor is just around the corner.
Linda from Kidsly Mom was exhausted from Braxton Hicks the two days leading up to the birth of her second child. She knew something was up when her body kept having all those contractions.
3) LOOSE BOWEL MOTIONS / DIARRHEA
Many women report experiencing loose and frequent bowel motions, if not diarrhea, 24 to 48 hours before labor. Myself included! I was having very loose bowel motions and I thought it was just my nerves, as I was getting anxious and excited about having the baby soon! Turns out it was a sign of labor starting soon.
This the result of you hormones changing and preparing your body for delivery. They cause the muscles in your uterus, cervix, and even the rectum to loosen, which can cause the loose bowel motions or diarrhea.
Some people say this is a good sign, because it means you are less likely to poop during delivery … no guarantee though, it may still happen!
Make sure to call your doctor if you have a fever, severe stomach pain, or diarrhea that lasts for more than one to two days though.
4) LOSS OF THE MUCUS PLUG
As the name suggests, the mucus plug is a “plug” that seals the opening of the cervix during pregnancy to prevent any bacteria from travelling into the uterus and causing any infection. However, as labor approaches and the cervix dilates, the plug gets released and drops out.
This is one of those signs that not all women notice: I never did, for example. However, some women may see some mucus dropping in the toilet, when wiping with toilet paper, or on their underwear. Some women even lose it over a few days, during which they experience an increased amount of vaginal discharge.
The tricky thing about the mucus plug is that it is possible to lose it even weeks before going into labor. If it does, it is known to re-generate to keep protecting the entrance of the uterus: apparently it can regenerate multiple times! So, if you lose the mucus plug at 35 weeks or so, do not panic!
That said, it usually happens days to hours before labor starts. So, if you are close to your due date and notice the mucus coming out, there’s a pretty good change the start of labor is 24 to 48 hours away!
The mucus plug has a transparent consistency, with a color that varies from clear to pink, as it contains little to no blood. If the mucus is more red and a mixture with blood, then you are experiencing the so called “bloody show”.
5) BLOODY SHOW
Having the bloody show and losing the mucus plug are closely related events: you can only have the bloody show after you lost the mucus plug, and it usually happens shortly after. However, they are not the same thing.
The mucus plug is transparent and contains little to no blood, while the bloody show is a clear mixture of blood and mucus. Once you lose the mucus plug, having the bloody show is a sign that the blood vessels in the cervix are rupturing as it effaces and dilates.
Again, it is difficult to say exactly when a woman will start labor after the bloody show occurs. However, most women enter labor a few hours or a few days after having bloody show.
As per losing the mucus plug, I personally didn’t experience this when I was pregnant but, if you do, get ready to pack your hospital bag!
6) EXTREME NESTING
Have you experience some nesting yet?! You know, that uncontrollable need to make sure everything is perfect for when baby arrives, cleaning the house like you’ve never cleaned it before, or going over your hospital bag a thousand times?
Well, guess what, while nesting behavior has been found to peak during the third trimester of pregnancy, some expecting moms tend to go into panic mode 1 or 2 days before labor begins. So, nesting can indeed be one of the signs that labor is coming soon!
If you are one of those “lucky” women (I wasn’t), you will experience a sudden burst of energy and an increased drive to clean and organize. Just make sure you don’t overdo it: you really want to conserve all the energy for when labor actually begins!
Also, to ease your mind, make sure to pack your hospital bag in advance. You can find some very helpful checklists here (including free printables) to make sure you’ve packed everything your need:
- The Ultimate Newborn Baby Checklist
- Hospital Bag Checklist for Mom, Baby and Partner
- The Ultimate Postpartum Care Kit Checklist: all the Essentials you need for Recovery after Birth
Contrary to the above (because if all women experienced the same things it would be too easy, wouldn’t it?!), some expecting moms actually start feeling extremely exhausted as labor approaches.
I remember feeling so incredibly tired and out of energy the last couple of days before labor started. It probably didn’t help that I could hardly sleep by that point at night 🙂
8) LOWER BACK PAIN
Lower back pain is another sign that labor is 24 to 48 hours away. While back pain is quite common during pregnancy due to the joints and ligaments loosening to prepare for labor, this lower back pain will feel much different and (sorry to say) more uncomfortable.
This lower back pain happens because the back of your baby’s head presses against your spine and tailbone as he/she makes his/her way through the birth canal. And changing position won’t provide any relief.
9) SLIGHT WEIGHT LOSS
Some expecting moms even experience losing 1 to 3 pounds of weight 24 to 48 hours before going into labor. Hurrah! – you might say 🙂
Well, don’t get too excited: it isn’t fat you are losing. It’s actually your body getting rid of some excess water. In fact, the amount of amniotic fluid tends to decrease towards the end of pregnancy, plus your baby dropping and pushing on your bladder will make you pee much more frequently.
10) FREQUENT URINATION
Like I mentioned above, your baby dropping towards the end of pregnancy means that they are going to push on your bladder: this will cause more frequent urination.
I remember having to constantly go to the toilet the last couple of days before labor began. So annoying!
11) CERVICAL DILATION
Towards the end of your pregnancy, you are very likely to have weekly checkups where your doctor will check your cervix to see how dilated it is. And cervical dilation of at least 2 to 3 centimeters often indicates that labor is approaching.
However, this is not always the case, and I’d like to point out that these cervical checks have some risks that are not always disclosed to pregnant women. In fact, they may increase the risk of vaginal infection or could possibly result in the premature rupture of membranes.
Not to mention they are not necessary: they are mainly just a progress report of how your cervix is doing! So, is it really worth the risk, just to find out how dilated you are? An knowing that it doesn’t even give you any guarantee of when labor is going to start?
Here in New Zealand they actually don’t even perform them. I never had a vaginal check until I was in actual labor and already 7 cm dilated. So, make sure to discuss all the pros and cons of having cervical checks with your doctor before agreeing to them.
Another one, possibly less common, of the signs that labor is approaching is nausea. If you are towards the end of your pregnancy and you start feeling nauseous and vomiting all of a sudden, there’s a pretty good chance that your baby is coming soon.
Audrey from Two Pink Peonies says:
I had nausea with both of my labors. I knew with my second after throwing up my dinner that I’d be giving birth soon. If you have bad nausea late in your pregnancy, start packing that hospital bag!
13) LOOSE JOINTS
When you get close to the end of pregnancy, your body starts releasing more hormones that will relax your joints and ligaments, particularly in your pelvis and lower back. This helps your body prepare for labor, by facilitating the opening of your pelvic area and delivery of your baby.
Therefore, 24 to 48 hours before labor, you may notice looser and more relaxed joints in that area of your body.
This sign is also closely related to more frequent and loose bowel motions, as the same hormones that relax the joints, are also relaxing the muscles around the rectum.
I personally experienced diarrhea 24 to 48 hours before labor started, but I honestly can’t remember any feeling of loose joints.
14) ENGAGED BABY
When your baby drops down into the pelvis in preparation for birth, it is said to be “engaged”. This is also another sign that labor may be starting soon.
However, baby dropping can happen at any time! For some women it happens a few hours before labor or even as labor starts. For others it happens weeks before (usually in the third trimester).
According to Medical News Today, it might happen closer to labor for women who have had babies before. This is because their body has been through labor before, so their pelvis may need less time to adjust to the process. That said, my baby only dropped as labor started, and it was my first pregnancy, so you never know for sure!
If you want to know what it feels like, this can also very from woman to woman. Some feel a sudden and noticeable drop, others don’t notice anything. However, most women will find that they can breathe better, because the baby stops pressing so much on the diaphragm.
The side effect? It will probably start feeling like you are carrying a bowling ball between your legs, and you will start to urinate way more frequently (the other sign that labor is close) because baby is now pushing more on the bladder.
Last but not least, cramping could also be a sign that labor is going to start soon. You will experience cramps similar to when you have your period.
How Long does Prelabor Last?
How long does prelabor (before early labor) last? Like I mentioned above, early labor starts when you start experiencing contractions. However, all the signs above can also be experienced before then. This phase is called prelabor and can last from hours to weeks.
Nobody knows why its length varies so much from women to women, however, it tends to last longer for women who are going through their first pregnancy.
The Difference Between False Labor and Real Labor
Contractions are the only real sign that labor has started, and so many women who experience an increase in Braxton Hicks contraction, also called “false labor”, might be wondering what is the exact difference between false and real labor.
Here’s a list of the exact difference, so that you can find out for sure whether your body is simply preparing for labor, or if labor has actually started!
- Braxton Hicks are not regular and do not increase in frequency, whereas real labor contractions are pretty regular and will start getting closer and closer together.
- Braxton Hicks are usually only felt at the front, whereas real labor contractions start at the back and wrap around the belly in front
- Braxton Hicks are milder and do not get stronger, whereas labor contractions tend to get stronger and more painful
- Braxton Hicks stop if you rest or change position. Real contractions don’t!
Note: real labor contractions can also decrease in frequency before they pick up again. However, they will maintain their frequency. For example, my labor started in the middle of the night, with contractions every 30 minutes or so, but they slowed down during the day to every hour. Apparently it’s quite common for them to slow down during the day: it’s part of the natural instinct, for which women feel safer delivering babies at night, instead of during the day.
When is it Time to go to Hospital?
Now, don’t head to hospital as soon as you experience any of these signs that labor is near! There could be plenty of time before you actually deliver your baby, and you definitely don’t need to spend all that time in hospital!
Advice on when to go to hospital exactly tends to differ from country to country or from your health care provider. I believe in the US you are advised to go to hospital soon after contractions start or when your waters break. Here in New Zealand they tend to keep you at home as long as possible, and only send you to hospital when you have contractions that last for about 60 seconds and are 5 minutes apart.
That said, always listen to your body! And if you feel like things are really happening down there, it’s better to move sooner rather than later. I remember calling my midwife when my contractions where only 7 minutes apart, and she was really reluctant to come and check me. But I really insisted and when she did check me at home I was already 7 cm dilated, so we had to rush to hospital!
I also took hypnobirthing classes, so I was very aware of what was happening to my body and I was so relaxed I knew things were going to progress quite fast.
- Hypnobirthing 101: the hypnobirthing basics for a positive birth experience
- How I had a natural and pain free birth thanks to hypnobirthing
If you experience your water breaking before your contractions start, then you may need to go to hospital sooner and be checked to make sure that labor is going to start soon. If not, you are at risk of infection and you may need to be induced.
But, no matter what’s going to happen, have you made sure your hospital bag is already packed and ready to go?? I would recommend you start packing your bag(s) at 36 weeks pregnant. You are actually considered full term after 37 weeks, so you could go into labor any time now!
- Hospital Bag Checklist for Mom, Baby and Partner
- The Ultimate Newborn Baby Checklist
- The Ultimate Postpartum Care Kit Checklist
- 12 Must-Have Clothes for After Delivery
In conclusion, it’s a bit hard to know for sure when your labor is going to start. While all the signs listed above are good signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away, they do not give you any guarantee. Contractions are the only real sign that labor is here!
However, if I had to choose the most likely ones to indicate that labor is about to start, I would say: water breaking, loose bowel motions, loose joints, engaged baby and lower back pain.
Just remember not to stress to much about it. I know you are probably super uncomfortable and can’t wait to give birth by now, but know that the more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to go into labor 🙂
Rest, stay in tune with your body and look out for these signs. But don’t worry if you experience none of the above.
Enjoy these last days of pregnancy, they won’t come back and life is going to get crazy soon enough.
All the best momma!
Are you a mom who’s given birth already and you’ve experienced other signs that labor is approaching soon? Then please let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
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