If you’re reading this now, you’re probably well into your third trimester of pregnancy. The day that you have been anxiously anticipating may be just a few days or weeks away!
The next and last step of this whole process is childbirth. Becoming aware of the signs that labor is 24-48 hours away is very important to get you prepared for labor and delivery.
Just like every woman’s pregnancy can be so different, their labor and childbirth can be, as well.
Labor can begin differently for each baby you have. That’s why it’s important to know all the signs labor is days away and not just the ones that you experienced the first time.
The start of my labor was very different in both of my pregnancies.
For some women, the subtle signs of labor are very obvious, but for others, they may not be. Labor could come on very suddenly or you may have symptoms for a few days. This is why it is important to know what to look for.
The later that you get in pregnancy, the more signs and symptoms you will see and feel, letting you know that labor is imminent. However, a lot of the signs just mean that labor is coming soon, not necessarily that it will be happening today or the next.
If you’re approaching that 40th week, then you’re probably anxious about when that moment will happen. Here are some ways to tell if you’re truly experiencing signs that labor is 24-48 hours away (below) or if it still could be a week or two away.
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Signs and Symptoms That Labor is Coming Soon (Within a Week)
Pre-labor can begin within a few weeks or up to two months before labor begins. These are signs that your body is doing its job to prepare for childbirth and hopefully giving you the smoothest delivery possible.
Although these are not necessarily signs that labor is coming within 24-48 hours, they are still important signs to pay attention to as it means your body is getting prepared.
1. Your baby will drop – Lightening
The term baby dropping simply means that the baby will begin to push downward and settle into your pelvis, in most cases, head down. If you carried your baby pretty high for most of your pregnancy, you may see a big difference as your belly will now look a lot lower.
If your baby was originally pretty high, you may be able to see the difference in the mirror. However, if your baby was already rather low in your belly, this may be a more subtle sign of labor.
This will ease the pressure on your lungs and rib cage so you may feel a bit of lightening and have an easier time breathing. Lightening is when you no longer feel the baby pushing up into your ribs.
This makes your center of gravity and majority of body weight much lower. You may feel a lot more pressure on your bladder, pelvis, and groin as your baby pushes downward.
If it’s your first pregnancy, your baby may drop a few weeks before labor, but if you’re on a subsequent pregnancy, your baby may drop around 24-48 hours before labor begins.
2. Pelvis and lower back aches and pains
When you are not yet in labor but getting close, you may begin to feel some cramping and lower back pain that comes and goes. These can be signs labor is coming soon, but it isn’t always a sign that labor is days away.
Due to the baby dropping, you will also notice a lot more pressure in your pelvic and lower back regions because of the low positioning of your baby. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I could barely walk because of the pressure distributed to my pelvis.
I could actually feel my hips opening up and preparing for the baby to exit the birth canal. Just relaxing and laying down helped me with this because you’re eliminating gravity from pulling everything down.
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3. Cervical change
Depending on your doctor, you may start getting internal exams around 36 weeks. This will help them to determine if your cervix is dilated and effaced.
The cervix is the small opening in your vagina that the baby will come out of. It’s the lower end of the uterus that opens up (or dilates) gradually as your body prepares to deliver your baby.
Many women believe that if they are dilating, they are in labor. However, that’s not the case at all and it doesn’t mean that it will happen immediately. Likewise, if you are not dilated, that doesn’t mean that labor will be much further out.
My sister-in-law was dilated at 5cm for almost 2 weeks before going into labor and I was not dilated at all when getting my exam but went into labor the next day.
Therefore it is different for every woman. However, your cervix dilating and effacing is a good sign that labor is coming soon (even if it’s not as soon as you would like).
4. Joints Feel Looser
In order for your baby to come out quickly and easily, your pelvic bones need to open up wide. I know it doesn’t seem like it could spread open that much, but trust me, it happens! Nature has made our bodies know what to do and how to do it.
The way that your pelvis can spread so much is the hormone relaxin that is released from your brain and throughout your entire body. Relaxin causes the joints of the pelvis, as well as everything else, to loosen up a bit more.
You will notice it throughout your whole pregnancy, but toward the end is when it really works it’s magic. Therefore, you’ll notice that your body feels less tight and rigid, and you can move those joints with ease.
This can definitely be one of the more subtle signs of labor.
5. The Urge to Nest
Toward the end of pregnancy, your urge to nest (clean and organize for baby’s arrival) will become especially present. You’ll have a strong feeling that you need to get your home ready and get everything neat and in it’s place for baby.
Although this doesn’t truly mean that you’re going into labor, it’s a common feeling that most women experience.
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6. Increase in Vaginal Discharge and Cervical Fluid
You may have experienced fluctuations in your cervical fluid throughout your whole pregnancy. Closer to the end, you may notice an increase in the amount of discharge as well.
This increase in fluid may mean that your cervix is opening up and getting ready for delivery.
Signs That You’re in Early Labor (Signs Labor is 24-48 Hours Away)
Early labor is not necessarily active labor, but it can show signs that labor is 24-48 hours away. Here are some things that you may see or feel during this time.
Keep in mind some of these signs may be obvious however, some may be more subtle signs of labor.
7. Your Water Breaks (Ruptured Membranes)
This is a sure sign that labor is 24-48 hours away because even if the rest of your body isn’t ready for the baby to come, you can’t keep your baby in much longer with a ruptured amniotic sac.
The water breaking could be a huge gush of fluid coming out (which is unmistakable) or a slow trickle, which is a more subtle signs of labor. The slow flow may be harder to determine that it’s definitely your water breaking because you may often see discharge or fluid come out that is not amniotic fluid.
If you have any inclination that your water may have broken, call your doctor. You need to deliver within 24 hours of your water breaking to prevent infection or harm to the baby.
For most women, this is the last thing that happens. It may not even happen until the baby is crowning or until the doctor physically ruptures it during delivery. However, both of my labors begun with my water breaking and that is how I knew that labor was only 24 hours away.
8. You Begin Feeling Contractions
You can start experiencing contractions in your third trimester that are not always a true sign of labor. Braxton Hicks contractions are experienced earlier on and are almost like a practice round for you of what early labor contractions will feel like.
Braxton Hicks contractions cause the muscles of your uterus to contract and release as if your body’s signaling to push the baby out. If your cramps or contractions don’t get any stronger or closer together, you are likely experiencing false labor contractions (not actual labor, just preparation).
You may feel contractions 10 minutes apart in equal or unequal intervals, but if they don’t get any closer than that, it is most likely not active labor. These contractions will usually ease up if you change positions, lay down, or get up and move (if you were already laying down).
Braxton Hicks contractions simply feel like your belly is tightening up a lot and then will relaxing. It can be one prolonged contraction for awhile or several smaller ones. Braxton Hicks contractions should not be painful.
When you are experiencing true labor contractions, they will be somewhat painful and get closer together and more frequent as time goes on. They don’t go away with a change in position and they will continue to get more and more intense as they occur.
True labor contractions may start off feeling like menstrual cramps, abdominal pressure, or just an upset stomach.
The pain could be felt anywhere from the lower back to the belly to the lower abdominal/pelvic region. However, you will typically feel the contractions right at your belly since it is the entire uterus contracting which has now expanded to your whole stomach.
In my experience, labor contractions started off feeling like a dull ache, typical of menstrual cramps. I thought nothing of it for the first hour of feeling them because they weren’t that painful yet. However, just as I was thinking ok, maybe this could be it, they started getting more intense and unbearable.
It’s a good thing I reacted quickly and started our journey to the hospital before they were really bad because it intensified very quickly.
If you are experiencing these more intense contractions it is a sure sign that labor is 24-48 hours away.
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9. Diarrhea or Nausea
If you’re getting into the real stages of early labor and are feeling those contractions coming on stronger and stronger, it may cause your body to let loose. Just as the muscles in your uterus are contracting and relaxing to push the baby out, so are the muscles of your stomach, intestines, and rectum.
The intensity of the contractions of your uterus is what may make your body expel everything that is inside of it.
Make sure to keep pumping fluids into your body during this time and remember that diarrhea and/or nausea is nothing to be concerned about! This is a very common sign that labor is 24-48 hours away.
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10. Losing your mucus plug or bloody discharge
A mucus plug is just what it sounds like: a clump of mucus that blocks off the cervix during pregnancy. It plugs up the entrance to the uterus from the vagina to prevent any foreign substances from getting in.
Once labor is to be starting soon, this mucus plug with fall out. You may see it in the toilet or your underpants as one big clump or it could break off in tiny pieces. If it breaks, it may be harder to notice it.
The mucus plug may be the greenish-yellowish color of the mucus in your nose or it could have a little bit of blood in it (still normal). Some women lose this a few days or hours before birth, but some may not see it come out at all until delivery.
Sometimes, the mucus plug will be tinged with blood. This is called bloody show and is nothing to be concerned about. In fact, it’s one of the more common signs that labor is 24-48 hours away. If you notice bright red bleeding or heavier bleeding (more than just some spotting), though, please call your doctor or midwife right away.
11. Cervix Dilates
Right before being in labor, your cervix will start to prepare for birth by dilating and thinning. While you may be dilated a couple of centimeters for a couple of weeks, once your body starts rapidly increasing the dilation – you know labor is soon or that you are already in labor!
Weird Signs That Labor Is Near
While exhaustion may be one of the more subtle signs of labor since you are likely already exhausted for many reasons – the last few days of pregnancy can be extremely hard to get any sleep, and severe exhaustion can be a sign that labor is coming soon.
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13. Weight Loss or Plateau
You’re pregnant so you typically would be gaining weight. That’s why losing weight is one of the weird signs that labor is near. Before you get overly excited that you may possibly start shedding some of the baby weight, I am not talking about a ton of weight loss. However you may end up losing a couple of pounds in the very end stages of your pregnancy.
14. Sleeplessness or Insomnia
Exhaustion is a normal side effect of pregnancy and extreme exhaustion can be a sign that labor is 24-48 hours away. But, the exact opposite is one of the weird signs that labor is near. With the mixture of pregnancy discomfort, excitement about baby soon, and the major shift in hormones right before labor begins, you may experience the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
15. You Feel Like You Have the Flu
This is another weird sign that labor is near. You may experience cold or flu-like symptoms, such as chills, muscle and body aches, a runny or stuffy nose, or an upset stomach. But, if start running a fever, contact your provider.
16. Feeling “Off”
So, this is a really weird sign of labor that not a lot of women experience. It’s generally described as just a “weird” or “off” feeling. I experienced this “off” feeling and the best way that I can describe it is that I felt like I had had a glass or two of wine.
Does Significant Pelvic Pressure Mean Labor is Coming?
Before you get into active labor, your baby will drop lower into the pelvic area. This will definitely cause a feeling of pelvic pressure.
Your baby dropping is a sign labor is coming soon, but it is not a sign labor is 24-48 hours away. It may still be a few days or weeks before labor comes.
Does Baby Move More Before Labor?
Your baby will not necessarily move more frequently or less frequently before labor and neither are a definitive sign labor is coming soon. It is however important to keep track of your baby’s movements and notify your doctor right away if baby’s movement slows considerably or stops completely.
As your baby gets bigger and you are full-term, you may feel that your baby’s movements seem more subtle as they don’t have the room to stretch out. However, you should still feel your baby moving throughout the entire day.
How Long Can You Be In Pre-Labor?
You can typically expect to be in pre-labor for up to two-four weeks before you actually start active labor. It is important to note that some symptoms of pre-labor may occur a mere few days before labor begins.
Am I in Labor? How To Tell
You will know you are in true labor when:
- You have strong, painful, and regular contractions that are getting closer together with time
- You feel pain in your belly and lower back (that doesn’t go away with movement)
- Your water breaks
- Your cervix is rapidly changing (your doctor will be the one to determine this)
Signs of False Labor
Unfortunately, not all contractions mean that you are in labor. There is a chance that you may begin having contractions and that labor is still weeks away.
These contractions are called Braxton-Hicks contractions. They are not pointless contractions, as they do help to soften and thin the cervix to help your body get ready for active labor.
Learning to tell the difference in Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor contractions can help you to know when you are really showing signs that labor is coming soon.
It can be hard to tell the difference between the two types of contractions. When you first start to feel them it is important to begin timing them.
Keep a record of your contractions for an hour, and try walking or moving positions to see if your contractions lessen or stop altogether.
Braxton Hicks contractions cause the muscles of your uterus to contract and release as your body’s signaling to push the baby out. You will know when you are experiencing false labor contractions (not actual labor, just preparation) when the cramps or contractions don’t get any stronger or closer together.
You may feel contractions 10 minutes apart in equal or unequal intervals, but if they don’t get any closer than that, it’s not true labor. You also may be able to move around or change positions and the contractions will ease up.
Braxton Hicks contractions simply feel like your belly is tightening up a lot and then will release. It can be one prolonged contraction for awhile or several smaller ones. BH contractions should not be painful.
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When to go to the Hospital: 5-1-1 Rule
The general rule of thumb when deciding whether to go to the hospital when you are experiencing signs of labor is to follow the 5-1-1 rule: If your contractions are 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute each, and continue for 1 hour – it is time to head to the hospital these are signs that labor is coming soon.
However, this also depends on how far your hospital is from your home, if your water has broken or not, if it is your first baby or subsequent one (first babies tend to take longer to come out) and if you are strep b positive. If your doctor has advised you to go to the hospital immediately, follow those orders.
. . . . . .
These are the most common signs that you will see, however, every woman experiences a different kind of labor, and each woman will have different signs labor is 24-48 hours away.
Always trust your gut and call the doctor or midwife. If you notice any sudden changes to your body and you’re well into your third trimester, take it as a sign that labor could be approaching.
Make sure your hospital bag is packed by 36 weeks and that you are prepared for delivery. You will do great!
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