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9 Signs That Labor Is 24 to 48 Hours Away: Are You Ready?

Emma

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away

Water? Breaking. The baby’s birth? Imminent. As the cervix dilates, you prepare yourself for pre-labor, one of the most exciting and terrifying moments for an expecting mother, especially one experiencing labor pain for the first time.

You’ve been dreaming of this moment, but has your time actually come? How can you distinguish true labor contractions from mild contractions that mean nothing?

Pregnancy is complicated, and the early signs of labor are no less confusing. Here are 9 signs of labor that indicate that the baby’s arrival is less than 24/48 hours away. 

Here Are 9 Signs Labor Is 24-48 Hours Away

  1. Loose stools
  2. Loss of the mucus plug
  3. Bloody show
  4. The baby has dropped
  5. Your water has broken
  6. Pain in the abdomen and lower back
  7. Labor contractions that grow stronger with time
  8. Nausea
  9. Intuition

9 Signs Labor Is 24-48 Hours Away

What are some of the early signs of active labor? The top 9[1] labor signs to look out for include all of the following:

Loose stools

In order to relax the uterus in anticipation of delivery, your body releases hormones in the period of time prior to birth. These hormones impact the entire abdominal cavity, including your bowels. It’s one clue that labor might be approaching.

Loss of the mucus plug

The mucus and membranes responsible for holding your water in are known collectively as the mucus plug. This is one of the most important early labor signs to look out for—you may find that it fell out into the toilet while using the restroom, or it may end up in your underwear, depending on what you’re doing at the time. After the mucus plug is kaput, you’re officially on the road to delivery, and you may experience increased vaginal discharge between now and the final push. It’s time to pack your bags.

Bloody show

Sometimes, the mucus plug will end up being fairly inoffensive in appearance. Other times, it might include some blood, much like period blood. In the latter case, you’re experiencing something called a “bloody show,” which is also totally normal. 

The baby has dropped

As alarming as this might be to somebody who hasn’t yet had their first baby, this is one completely normal thing that happens before your water breaks. It’s also known as the “lightening” of the baby; basically, this is the fetus’s attempt to align itself with the birth canal as the real contractions finally begin.

Your water has broken

While this may not be the first sign of labor approaching, it’s one of the classic, tell-tale symptoms that come along with early contractions. Your “water” is nothing more than the amniotic fluid in your uterus. After the membranes sealing it in rupture, the baby is coming, the rest of your day be damned.

Pain in the abdomen and lower back

Some of the most noticeable signs of labor will inevitably be the painful parts—pelvic pressure, low back pain, and other forms of discomfort during the third trimester. These early signs of labor may be present throughout your pregnancy, but women notice that they do tend to intensify in early labor and in the time leading up to it. “Loose” joints are another common, early sign.

Labor contractions that grow stronger with time

Intense contractions or painful contractions might not always coincide with when labor starts—Braxton-Hicks contractions, also called prodromal labor, practice contractions, or false labor[2], are extremely common to experience throughout one’s pregnancy.  

Nausea

Chances are, your morning sickness has all but fallen to the wayside by the third trimester. Unusual nausea, lack of appetite, stomach cramps, and even vomiting are all signs labor is 24/48 hours away.

Intuition

Finally, one of the most mysterious signs of labor: is pure instinct. Often, this comes in the form of something called the “nesting” instinct—the strong, undeniable urge to plan, organize, and flourish. It’s a primal urge developed through millennia of evolutionary experience, all aiming to prepare the world for the gift you’re about to deliver. It’s said to peak late in the third trimester[3] and might be another labor sign to be aware of.

If the majority of these apply to you currently, they’re all signs labor is near. All the signs point to the same thing; when it’s go-time, what pregnancy symptoms can you expect?

How Do You Feel Before Labor?

When labor is 24/48 hours away, the cervix begins to dilate, peaking at around 10 centimeters[4]. One of the most prominent labor signs will be your contractions; active labor begins when your contractions are no less than three to five minutes apart.

The symptoms that trigger labor carry themselves out in phases—the first stage, broken down further into the latent phase, and the active phase, spanning cervical dilation between zero and six centimeters. This is also called cervix effacement, the thinning of the membrane.

It’s during this time that the fetus’s head begins to engage with the pelvis, the baby dropping into place in preparation for actual labor. This period of time may last anywhere from 14 to 20 hours, depending on whether or not the mother has given birth naturally before.

Now, after finally dilating to 10 centimeters, the real show begins. The second stage of labor begins at this point and ends with the actual delivery of your baby. When you reach this point, the baby moves on his or her own, away from the amniotic sac and toward the birth canal itself.

For most women, this part of the process will be much longer than their first birth, up to four hours. After the baby has been delivered, you’ve officially entered the final stage of labor. This part is simple—you simply “deliver” the rest of the placenta, which may include amniotic fluid, vaginal discharge, and some blood.

This may happen in a sudden burst or take up to half an hour. The umbilical cord is cut, and you’re officially a real mother. Congrats!

When Does Labor Start?

For most women, the baby drops anywhere between 37 to 42 weeks after conception[5]

As mentioned above, it’s completely normal to experience false labor symptoms well before this time, including Braxton-Hicks contractions and kicking from inside your womb. Vaginal discharge is normal, but shouldn’t be confused for water breaking—if you’ve ever delivered a baby before, the difference will be more than obvious.

If it’s way too early but these symptoms persist, get in touch with your healthcare provider to rule out the possibility of preterm delivery or other pregnancy complications. Notice signs of things that aren’t quite right and remain in tune with your body.

When To Go To the Hospital?

You’ve got your hospital bag packed. When is it time to hit the road?

The “411” rule suggests that the best time to go to the hospital is when your contractions are four minutes apart and one minute or more in length apiece—after one hour, it’s safe to assume that you’re experiencing the real deal, not just Braxton-Hicks contractions.

Using things like a cold compress and even breathing exercises can keep you calm while your partner or family helps you get to the hospital. As long as you have everything lined up and ready to go when the big moment arrives, you’ll be ready for action when the first signs of labor begin to present themselves.

The Bottom Line

What’s the best way to prepare yourself for labor? Stay healthy, rest as often as you can, and check in with your body at every possible intersection. You’ve made it this far. The finish line is just ahead.

Our advice is to pay less attention to what other women report about their own pregnancies. Focus completely on what your body is telling you—labor might seem scary before you’ve successfully seen a delivery through, but it’s a completely natural part of being human. Your body was designed for this job. All that you need to do is show up.

Billions of women dive head-first into this joyous gateway every year. Your real life awaits you on the other side.


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  1. Hutchison, J., Heba Mahdy and Hutchison, J. (2022). Stages of Labor. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544290/.
  2. ‌Raines, D.A. and Cooper, D.B. (2021). Braxton Hicks Contractions. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470546/.
  3. ‌Anderson, M.V. and Rutherford, M.D. (2013). Evidence of a nesting psychology during human pregnancy. Evolution and Human Behavior, [online] 34(6), pp.390–397. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.07.002.
  4. ‌Liao, J.B., Buhimschi, C.S. and Norwitz, E.R. (2005). Normal Labor: Mechanism and Duration. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, [online] 32(2), pp.145–164. doi:10.1016/j.ogc.2005.01.001.
  5. ‌https://www.nichd.nih.gov/. (2017). When does labor usually start? [online] Available at: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/labor-delivery/topicinfo/start-of-labor.
Emma

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Emma Garofalo is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of science, art, and all things culinary, few things excite her more than the opportunity to learn about something new." It is now in the sheet in the onboarding paperwork, apologies!!

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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