This post may contain affiliate links that I may receive a commission from if you click & buy. In addition, the information on this site is NOT intended to be medical advice. See my full policy for more information.
Calling all expectant mothers: if you’re in your third trimester, you’re probably wondering, what are the signs labor is 24-48 hours away? Don’t worry mama, we’ll go over all those exciting labor signs below!
If you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy, within those last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy, you should have completed two major things already. They are:
- Packing your hospital bag (if you haven’t done this yet, click here for the best hospital bag checklist for mom, baby, and partner)
- Take a Birth Class (if you haven’t, I highly suggest Birth It Up. It’s 100% online, affordable, and the exact same class I took during my 2nd pregnancy. Plus, you can save 10% off using code MOMAFTERBABY)
Some moms like to wing it and that’s fine, but going into labor with some understanding of what’s to come before the birth of your baby is what sets a positive birth experience apart from a negative one.
Assuming you are well prepared and ready to meet your baby, let’s talk about those symptoms before labor begins!
12 Obvious signs labor is 24-48 hours away!
The third trimester is fun, exciting, and nerve-wracking all at once.
I remember there was a point where everything and anything made me question if I was experiencing my first sign of labor. Just remember, babies, like to do things on their own terms. Even more so, your body will let you know when it’s ready.
In fact, here are 12 obvious signs labor is 24-48 hours away:
1) Labor contractions have started and continue to pick up.
2) Your water may break or start to leak.
3) Loss of your mucus plug.
4) You have the “bloody show”.
5) Your cervix begins to dilate
6) You begin to experience low back pain that doesn’t go away (could be an indication of a contraction).
7) Your joints start to loosen up.
8) You start to experience loose stools or even diarrhea.
9) Your weight gain halts before labor.
10) Sudden wave of exhaustion and extreme fatigue hits.
11) You experience a surge or jolt of energy.
12) Your baby will engage in the pelvic canal.
If you’re short on time for reading the whole post, this video by Bridget Teyler, a birth doula, discusses some of these signs to help you understand if you’re VERY CLOSE to labor!
What the signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away mean (early signs of labor)
Obviously, different labor signs can indicate different things. This is why it’s important to understand what these changes mean for your body.
Once we discuss all the symptoms hours before labor, we will learn more about the 4 stages of labor. This will help you put the entire puzzle together to see how each symptom correlates to each stage.
It can be a little confusing and honestly overwhelming, but take a deep breath and let’s get started!
1) True labor contractions begin
True labor contractions are going to be the most reliable way to tell if your baby is ready to debut in 24-48 hours (not to be confused with braxton hicks contractions).
Now, it’s also important to keep in mind that some women will experience true labor contractions before their baby is term. If this happens and your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, you will be considered preterm.
TRUE labor contractions are your body’s way of progressing and getting ready for birth.
These contractions can start out feeling like a dull menstrual cramp up to a very intense menstrual cramp accompanied with lower back pain, nausea, or even hip/pelvic pain!
With true labor contractions, they’ll also continue to form a pattern and become more frequent. If you notice this, you should call your labor & delivery unit or midwife right away.
2) Your water ‘might’ break
Notice the ‘might’ part? That’s because only 15-20 percent of women experience their water breaking before labor starts! For me, I had what’s known as PROM (premature rupture of membranes).
My water had a teeny tiny leak that was almost impossible to notice. However, my mama bear instincts kept telling me the random bit of leakage I felt wasn’t right.
I went in for evaluation assuming they’d send me home (even the hospital staff told me it was likely a false alarm). Before I knew it, they were admitting us because sure enough, it was amniotic fluid slowly leaking out. This happened with BOTH of my pregnancies.
Now, if your water breaks (we’re talking full-on gush), you should make note of the time, get prepared to start timing contractions, and know that your baby could be on its way very very soon!
You should also try to avoid sitting submerged in water or anything that could get inside you because with your water being broken, the baby is no longer protected from the outside germs!
3) You lose your mucus plug
First, let’s discuss what the mucus plug is. Your mucus plug is a gelatinous mucus clump that seals your cervix.
It forms as another barrier to help protect baby from the outside world like any nasty germs!
When you dislodge your mucus plug it can mean a few things:
- Your cervix is ripening! In order for the plug to dislodge, your cervix needs to soften and open up, so that’s great news that SOMETHING is going on down there.
- Labor could begin within minutes, days, or in some cases even a couple of weeks!
It’s also worth noting that you may not even notice you lost your mucus plug. Sometime it dislodges in one big clump of mucus while other times it comes out in smaller chunks throughout the day.
It usually has a clear/yellow tinge and sometimes can have a small streak of blood, but shouldn’t look like a blood clot by any means!
4) You have “the bloody show”
The bloody show is very similar to your mucus plug, except, it’s bloody!
It also tends to occur AFTER you experience some contractions. This is because contractions are your body’s way of contracting your uterus and causing those cervical changes to soften, open and get ready for baby!
Sometimes, women can dislodge their mucus plug followed by the bloody show altogether.
Having your bloody show is yet another sign that your cervix is making some changes to prepare for baby’s birth.
It also means your labor can begin within minutes or days as well!
5) Your cervix begins to dilate
When you feel those painful contractions, you can bet your cervix is experiencing some small changes, hopefully, one of them is dilating!
Some women will get cervical checks late in their pregnancy to track how dilated they are, but it isn’t necessary.
It also runs some risks, such as introducing bacteria into the vaginal canal or even a premature rupture of the membranes.
The other thing with cervical checks is that sometimes an expecting mother will stay at 3cm dilated and then quickly progress to 8 or 9cm in the blink of an eye.
At the end of the day, it’s important and necessary to dilate your cervix before the baby is born, but it’s not always beneficial to keep checking.
6) Low back pain that doesn’t go away
True contractions can often times radiate into the low back or even hip/pelvic region.
If you begin experience a dull back pain that DOESN’T go away after changing positions or adjusting yourself, this could be a sign you’re in labor!
If you notice the pains go away with movement or adjustment, it’s probably just another irregular contraction (Braxton-Hicks).
Regardless, if you’re having any kind of pain and aren’t sure what’s going on, give your doctor or midwife a call to be safe!
7) Your joints are loosening up
Some women notice their joints feel much more “loose” before labor begins.
I can say from experience I didn’t personally notice this, but I can see how some do!
Our bodies are surging with relaxin, the hormone produced by the ovary & placenta responsible for loosening the ligaments in your pelvic region and helping to ripen the cervix.
8) You begin experiencing soft stools or diarrhea
Diarrhea is a common symptom of those ending days of pregnancy. As your body works hard to relax those muscles and joints to birth your baby, it, unfortunately, means your rectum will also relax a bit more, in turn, causing softer stools, and in most cases, diarrhea.
The GOOD news about having diarrhea leading up to labor is that you probably won’t experience pooping on the delivery bed.
Now, that should be the LEAST of your worries. As one of my all-time Labor & Delivery Nurses from social media says in her Q&A’s just about every weekend, “US NURSES DON’T CARE IF YOU POOP ON THE BED. WE’LL CLEAN IT UP AND GO ON ABOUT DELIVERING YOUR BABY SAFELY“.
9) You stop gaining weight before labor
Before going into labor, our bodies tend to taper off on weight gain.
Sometimes, you may even lose weight! Usually between 1-3 pounds, nothing too extreme!
Just another sign of our bodies preparing to bring that bundle of joy into the world!
10) You feel exhausted before labor begins
I remember all too well with my 2nd pregnancy, the days before going into labor, I felt SO exhausted and fatigued out of nowhere.
On top of already not getting enough sleep, just add in some exhaustion throughout the day, no big deal!
11) You feel a sudden burst of energy before labor begins (sometimes called the nesting instinct)
Now, on the contrary to above, some women commonly feel a surge of energy before labor begins!
Many get reignited into nesting and will start trying to tackle more baby projects around the home.
If that’s the case, enjoy the surge of energy while you’ve got it, but don’t go too crazy with the projects! Be sure to use some of that time to relax a bit to stay in tune with your changing body. And so your body can continue to prepare for labor!
12) Your baby will engage into the pelvic canal
You’ve likely heard other pregnant moms say something to the effect of, “oh, she’s dropped now”, indicating that the baby visually looks lower in her belly.
When a baby drops or engages into the pelvic canal, that’s a wonderful sign your body is one step closer to birth and labor could begin soon!
Though, baby dropping is one of the least accurate signs to gauge how quickly you’ll go into labor as some moms have reported their baby dropping around week 32 or 34!
With my first pregnancy, I remember feeling my son deeper in my pelvic canal. It literally felt at times like he was going to just, make it way out at any minute. This was around week 36 for me.
With my 2nd, he dropped even earlier! So just remember, every pregnancy is completely different. Plus, you may not even notice your baby is descending into the pelvic canal until your doctor points it out.
What are the four stages of labor?
Now that we’re aware of all the 12 signs labor is 24-48 hours away, let’s learn more about each stage of labor.
The first stage of labor: Cervical changes
The first stage of labor consists of those major cervical changes (effacement/softening & dilating).
In this stage, you will go through:
- Early Labor (When your cervix dilates up to 4cm – you’ll usually spend this time at home timing your contractions and tracking their progression).
- Active Labor (When your cervix is between 4-7cm dilated. You likely cannot talk through contractions & should be at or on your way to the hospital at this point.
- Transitional (When your cervix dilates from 7 to 10cm and you begin feeling the MOST intense contractions. You should be at the hospital or birthing center at this time)
The second stage of labor: Hello Baby
The second stage of labor is when your baby is born! This means you’ll have fully dilated, contracted, and birthed that beautiful baby into this world!
Pushing length can vary depending on whether it’s your first baby and/or how big your baby is in comparison to your birth canal.
On average, first-time moms tend to push for around 1-2hours.
From my experience, I pushed for 3 hours with my first son (he was 8lbs 2oz), and with my second son I pushed for 10 minutes on the dot (he was 8lbs 10oz).
The third stage of labor: Thanks for nourishing my baby, placenta!
The third stage of labor is the ‘afterbirth’ stage.
You will continue to experience labor contractions (not as intense) as your body prepares to deliver the placenta.
Typically, your placenta follows not long after the baby is born.
If you’re not squeamish of bloody, I totally suggest checking it out! When it’s positioned a certain way, it looks like a tree of life (formed by all the veins that were delivering all those nutrients to your little babe in the womb). Pretty cool huh?
The fourth stage of labor: Recovery
The final stage of labor — your baby is born, placenta delivered & you should be soaking up those skin to skin snuggles with your beautiful little babe.
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, your baby will likely begin rooting and searching for your nipple at this time and soon, you’ll experience the first latch!
Knowing when the baby will arrive can be tough. It can also make you very very anxious, but just know whenever the time maybe, he or she will have you anxiously waiting to meet them!
When is it time to go to the hospital?
Knowing when to head to the hospital and notify your healthcare provider is different for everyone. You’ll need to take the following into consideration:
- Is this your first pregnancy?
- How far is the hospital or birthing center from your home?
- Do you have someone to take you?
- Will you need to find childcare for other children?
- How far apart are your contractions (and are they true contractions)?
Typically, with a healthy first pregnancy, you can spend a little more time laboring at home. If you suspect you’re in labor, give your hospital a call and let them guide you as to when to head in.
With a 2nd healthy pregnancy, it’s more common for things to progress quickly from the first sign labor has begun. Therefore it’s best to head in earlier (while those contractions aren’t too close), but also give your hospital a call to help.
How did YOU feel 24-48 hours before labor?
Look, reading all the signs and what to expect is great, but labor looks different for every single mom. And we get it. These are your last week of pregnancy, you’re bound to be feeling a little anxious, nervous, and maybe even a bit scared. Trust me, it will all be ok — you got this!
With my first pregnancy, I always had this gut feeling my son would be “early”. I don’t know why, but it was the strangest instinctual feeling I’ve ever had — and it turned out to be true.
Around week 37 I lost my mucus plug and started noticing weird ‘wet spots’ (small dime-sized spots) throughout the day.
Sometimes there’d be nothing. So I called L&D to be safe. They assured me it was just normal bodily fluid/vaginal discharge picking up as it always does closer to birth. But…it kept happening.
I called 3 more times before a nurse finally told me to come in and get it checked out. So my husband and I went to triage bright and early 2 days before I’d be 38 weeks pregnant. I had been having very mild contractions without any consistency. My exam checked out pretty normal, but they did see some tiny pooling of fluid on my vaginal exam.
It was so small they assured me it was likely just pregnancy discharge and that they’d be back to confirm.
Well…when they came back it wasn’t to confirm they were right. It was to tell us we had a change of plans and would be admitted because the fluid turned out to be amniotic fluid.
Ironically enough, my 2nd labor ended up the EXACT SAME WAY. How the heck it happened twice I have no clue. But this time I knew better (and actually was having some pretty painful back contractions) and went in the minute I got suspicious.
That’s just my story though.
I also asked some mamas what signs labor is 24-48 hours away they experienced, check out their responses below!
8 Moms Tell ALL – Their Symptoms Hours Before Labor
“I felt nervous. I had hiccups like crazy 24 hours before giving birth. I was also dilated to a 6 (holy mother of pearl!) with my first one 2 days before going into labor so I had a lot of contractions, but she wasn’t dropping fast enough to actually put me into labor. (tall girl probs lol) And emotionally – well, I was scared because before giving birth to our first daughter, I’d never even held a newborn before…so I was a nervous wreck full of doubt, fear, and hope. <3 I actually couldn’t concentrate on anything besides what I was going to look like during labor so I stayed up and straightened my hair and put on waterproof mascara. LOL. To say I was a hot mess was an understatement. That was with the first baby…with the second? My water broke all over my inlaws leather couch….so I guess you can say I felt embarrassed. LOL“, said Thena, a mom of 2 and blogger over at HodgePodge Hippie.
Next up, is Amy Motroni, a Certified Baby and Toddler Consultant AND blogger of The Postpartum Party. When I asked her what symptoms she was experiencing before labor she said, “ABSOLUTELY NONE“.
She elaborated further to explain “I had a scheduled induction (1 week overdue) and I felt so nervous and excited but also anticlimactic at the same time! I asked my OB if I could take some Benadryl the night before because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep! My husband and I drove to the hospital after going out for a pancake breakfast and joked how odd it was to just causally go have a baby and so different from what we ever expected!!“.
Mama Kimberly Cartwright (who makes parenting littles incredibly fun over at Team Cartwright) says, “For my singleton? Nothing. My water broke to kick off labor. I actually worked out (well, walked on a treadmill) and went to work that day. I even remember telling my boss I would be at work all week. I didn’t have any nesting urges or anything. Then boom! Labor! For my twins? I was induced, and I remember the night before feeling like a combination of Christmas Eve as a kid and the night before a big test. I was excited and nervous. It was a strange feeling knowing it was my last night as a mom of one and that the next day I would be a mom of three. I was aware of my bump if that makes sense. I didn’t have contractions or pain, but I did feel as though something was brewing…“.
Do you see the trend in how NONE of these mamas had a textbook perfect labor experience???
Don’t worry, I have a few more mom’s sharing there experiences below:
Cate Rosales, mom of two and blogging queen over at Making Mom Life Easy shares her experience for BOTH her kiddos, “With baby # 1, I was on my way to the airport to pick up my sister, hadn’t had any discomfort or contractions the whole pregnancy. We’re on our way to the airport, TWO HOURS from the hospital, and I got the sharpest cramp I’ve ever felt in my life. 5 minutes later, it happened again… on cramp # 3, I knew it was time (I was 5 days past my ‘due date’)….
Went home to grab our bags and sent my father in law to pick up my sister from the airport while we rushed to the hospital. I was so nervous my whole body was shaking throughout the whole ‘check-in’ time in labor and delivery. Just an hour or so of cramping and I was already 5 CM in. Baby girl wanted out! Very uneventful other than that…
Baby # 2, no labor signs at all, I was chasing my toddler and injured my pelvis so I had to be induced because the pain was unbearable and I couldn’t walk.”
If you thought waiting for baby’s arrival was tough, Linda Hurst of All About Baby Blog couldn’t agree more, she said, “I was already over my due date and just over it, impatiently waiting for my baby to come and nothing happened. I tried all the “tricks” with walking upstairs and so on only to be even more exhausted. I had no clue I would go into labor until late in the day of when contractions slowly started!“.
Samantha Flores shares, “With my first, I just had this “feeling” that something was going to happen on the 19th (a Sunday). So I buttoned up everything for work just in case, had all day stomach problems on the 18th (thought it was food poisoning), and birthed him at 3:15 AM on the 19th!” Samantha is a mama to two little cuties & blogger at Her Journal!
Cassie Bains of Cass Clay Cooking shared that her labor experience was “As normal as you can for being 9 months pregnant.” She mentions she, “Wasn’t expecting it to happen until after my due date, and actually had lunch and dinner out with friends as a last baby-free hurrah. And unexpectedly early the next morning contractions began.“
Lastly, this poor mama experienced tough labor for WEEKS, she went through what’s called prodromal labor (labor that starts and stops before active labor begins).
“I experienced something called prodromal labor for 3 weeks leading up to the delivery of my daughter at 41 weeks and 2 days, so it was a bit tricky knowing “this is it”. The moment that felt different was when I started having the shivers, and I felt the baby drop really low. The contractions started speeding up, and my daughter was born within 45 minutes of that happening.” shared Lili Bo of The Matbakh.
Like I mentioned, birth and labor are all so unique to each mom and baby.
Some of these mamas had labor signs for weeks, others had them for days, and some showed NO signs at all!
As exciting as it is to WANT to just go into labor already, sometimes, we just have to let our bodies work the magic they know how to do and let it take the reigns.
Don’t worry, if you notice signs of labor approaching or not. No matter how it happens, you’ve got this mama.
Wishing you a safe & beautiful labor experience!
What signs labor is 24-48 hours away did you experience with your pregnancy?
This article was updated on November 5th, 2021.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY: