Signs Labor Is 24-48 Hours Away: Things To Look Out For

Jo Kingsley
Feb 29, 2024 By Jo Kingsley
Originally Published on May 14, 2021
Regular contractions are a key indicator of approaching labor.
Age: 0-99
Read time: 8.5 Min

You did it, nine months of pregnancy have gone by and now it's very nearly time for the big day!

But now that labor is so close, you might find yourself with lots of questions and worries that you hadn't thought of before. It's not unusual for women to spend so much time thinking about their pregnancy, and imagining what their baby will be like, that they forget about the birth!

So Kidadl is here to help. Whether you want to know exactly when to go to the hospital for labor, or you're looking to find some gentle exercises to induce labor at home, we have the information and support you need to help you through this amazing but nerve-wracking time.

And in the final few weeks of pregnancy, we know there's one big thing that's always on your mind: signs of labor. So we're breaking it down and bringing you all the signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away, plus early labor signs and what you can do to get prepared. So, read on to find out all you need to know about the days leading up to meeting your baby!

Signs Labor Is 24-48 Hours Away

Remember that all women are different, and the signs of labor you experience could be totally different to another mom in your antenatal class. Just like in pregnancy, where some women have sickness and others don't, or some have constant Braxton Hicks whilst other women don't even feel them, there's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to signs of labor.

But there are a set of common labor signs to look out for, so even if you don't notice them all, there should be enough clues there to let you know that labor is on its way.

Your baby dropping is one of the first and most noticeable signs of labor. Otherwise known as 'lightening', it's when your baby moves down into your pelvis and into position ready for labor. If it's your first baby, this often happens a few weeks before labor starts but with subsequent births, babies don't tend to drop until you're actually in active labor.  

When your baby drops, it can make it easier for you to breathe, as baby isn't tucked right up, squishing your lungs any more. Although the flip side of that is that they're now likely to be squishing your bladder instead! It might also make it a little uncomfortable for you to walk but don't worry, it won't be for long!

In the days (and weeks) before going into labor, your cervix will start to prepare itself. It will begin to both open up (dilate) and thin out (efface) to allow your baby to travel more easily down the birth canal. At your check-ups, your healthcare provider might carry out an internal exam to double-check, and if you're a couple of centimeters dilated, it could mean that labor is 48 hours away! (Remember that you won't be fully dilated until the final stage of labor.)

Pre-labor signs also include cramps and increased pain in your lower back and groin, as your muscles stretch. And it's not just your muscles, your joints and ligaments will also loosen as a hormone called relaxin is released to help your pelvis open up ready for labor.

In fact, it's not just the muscles in your joints and uterus that are relaxing, the muscles in your rectum are too. This can often lead to diarrhea (just when you thought you couldn't spend any more time on the toilet!), but as unpleasant as it may be, it is a sign that labor is approaching.

Another sign that labor might be 24 to 48 hours away is that your weight gain levels off. As your levels of amniotic fluid decrease and you take more trips to the bathroom after your baby drops, you might actually notice some weight loss. Weight loss of a few pounds is totally normal, and won't affect your baby.

When labor is approaching you'll also notice a big impact on your energy levels. You might feel absolutely exhausted and desperate to sleep whenever you can. Or, you might have a completely unexpected burst of energy! Otherwise known as the nesting instinct, you could find yourself on a mission to clean, decorate or organize your house in excited preparation for your baby's arrival! But if you do happen to find yourself with lots of extra pregnancy energy, try to remember that labor is coming soon, so you still need to rest and conserve your energy, even if you don't feel like it!

One of the signs of labor approaching is the nesting instinct, a burst of energy that helps you to prepare for the arrival of your baby.

Signs Of Early Labor

From how your water breaks to contractions during false labor, there are a few misconceptions around the onset of early labor and the changes that happen to your body. Remember that things happen at different times for different women, and others might not notice some of the changes at all. So if you don't experience all of these signs, that's totally normal and nothing to worry about.

Contractions are the big sign that everyone talks about, and are one of the most definitive early signs of labor. But you will have to figure out the difference between labor contractions and the other kinds you might experience. You may have already had Braxton Hicks contractions, otherwise known as 'practice' contractions, from the second trimester all the way through to the end of your pregnancy, but true labor contractions are different. Whilst Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and usually disappear when you change position or have a drink of water, real contractions will become more frequent, longer, and stronger.

Annoyingly though, just as Braxton Hicks can trip you up, so can false labor. Also called prodromal labor, false labor can result in multiple contractions and pain, despite the fact that you're not quite ready for active labor yet. It's yet another way your body prepares for the task ahead. Make sure to count and time your contractions and ensure it's not false labor before calling your doctor or heading to the hospital.

It might sound a little gross, but look out for the loss of your mucus plug, as this is often a good sign that labor is on its way. The mucus plug is a kind of seal that creates a barrier between your cervix and uterus, protecting your baby inside. It's almost like a cork in a bottle! So when the mucus plug dislodges and falls out, it means your baby is ready to leave the uterus. The plug can come out in one noticeable lump, or break down into a few smaller ones that are harder to spot. So if you don't notice it, don't worry, plenty of women don't.

In the last days or hours before labor, you might notice a particular type of vaginal discharge. Known as the 'bloody show,' this thick pink discharge is a good sign of labor. It's important to note that normal discharge should be pinkish or brownish. If you notice blood or bright red discharge, you should contact your doctor or midwife.

Another of the main signs of labor approaching is your water breaking. But it is not necessarily the dramatic event that you might expect! Whilst some women's waters break earlier, others don't break until active labor. Sometimes the doctor even has to break it manually! One thing is for sure, it won't happen the way it does in the movies.

Preparing For Early Labor

Prepare for labor by getting lots of rest and relaxation.

There are lots of different things you can do to prepare, both mentally and physically, for your approaching labor and delivery.

Make sure your hospital bag is packed and ready so you have one less thing to think about when the time comes! If you're worried you've forgotten something, you can find a hospital bag checklist online, you can break it down by mom, dad, and baby.

Physically, make sure to get lots of rest. The different stages of labor, from early to active, can last days, so it's important to get lots of sleep, rest, and relaxation to conserve your energy.  

Having said that, gentle exercise can also help you prepare. Pregnancy yoga and careful stretching can help aid your stamina and flexibility during labor, and help to ease back pain. And gentle walks in the fresh air can work wonders, especially when early contractions start.

Massage can also be a brilliant tool. Massage can help ease muscle tension, relieve pain and encourage relaxation. Ask your birth partner to practice gentle techniques during pregnancy in preparation for labor, because massage is also very helpful in easing back pain and helping you to recover more quickly from contractions during labor itself.  

As well as back massage, you could also try perineal massage. This technique can make it easier for you to deliver your baby, reduce the risk of tearing, and aid recovery after birth.

Mentally, you might like to explore meditation and mindfulness, which you can do before and even during labor. These kinds of exercises can really help to promote calm and a sense of well-being. They can also help bring a feeling of control, much like practicing your breathing exercises.  

Actively practicing positive thinking can also help you prepare. As labor approaches, it can be really easy to start obsessing about pain or worrying about 'what ifs'. And all that over-thinking can leave you stressed and exhausted, the exact opposite of the calm and in control headspace that's ideal for labor. So try to re-frame negatives, look up positive stories or even invest in some affirmation cards to help you achieve the right state of mind. Journalling or using a gratitude diary could also help to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at what period pains on and off at 37 weeks pregnant means or find out if you can run when pregnant?

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Written by Jo Kingsley

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Film and English

Jo Kingsley picture

Jo KingsleyBachelor of Arts specializing in Film and English

Jo is a versatile writer with a Bachelor's degree in Film and English from the University of Southhampton who is passionate about mental health and well-being, history, art, food and drink, and photography. As a work-from-home mom to two adventurous boys, she loves exploring local castles, museums, and galleries with them, and sharing her knowledge and interests through her blog.

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