10 Signs Labor is Approaching

It’s one of the questions that almost every expecting mom has had throughout her nine months of pregnancy:, “How will I know, for sure, that I’m in labor?” If this is your first baby, you might wonder how it will feel, what you can expect from labor, and whether it’s really happening or only a false alarm. Even experienced moms who know that early signs of labor are sometimes vague can have a hard time pinpointing the signs.

So, is it possible to know for sure whether you’re in labor? Yes! There are telltale signs to watch for that help let you know it’s almost time to meet your baby. Here are the 10 signs that labor is approaching!

Signs Labor is 24 to 48 Hours Away

The baby drops: One of the 10 signs labor is approaching is when you feel the sensation of your baby dropping into your lower pelvic cavity. Without the baby pressing on your diaphragm, you may suddenly be able to breathe a little easier (yay!). The other side to that though is, with your baby dropping lower to get into position, you may need to pee more frequently as your little one’s head is now pushing on your bladder. Most moms complain about pelvic pain at this stage, it’s entirely normal. 

Braxton Hicks contractions: The days leading up to labor may include Braxton Hicks or “practice” contractions that feel like mild cramps. What’s actually happening is that your uterus is tightening and hardening to prepare for the baby’s birth. Totally normal as you get close to labor.

Cramps and lower back pain: There are two different kinds of back pain associated with labor. When you’re not yet in labor but getting close, you’ll feel some cramping and mild back pain that seem to come and go. This is a sign that your muscles and joins are getting ready for delivery.

Diarrhea: To prepare the body for labor and delivery, there are several muscles that will start to relax in preparation and that includes your rectum. This is where experiencing diarrhea in the days leading up to delivery is normal. Keep drinking those fluids (yes, you’ll have to pee more) and remember that it’s completely normal and temporary. You’re almost there, Mama!

Weight gain switches to weight loss: As your baby still grows and you get closer to labor, your amniotic fluid levels will start to decrease and your potty breaks will become more frequent making it completely normal for you to stop gaining weight.

Cervix dilates: The body is truly magic and how it moves through pregnancy and prepares for birth is astounding. Right before labor, your cervix will start to prepare for birth by dilating (opening) and thinning out. It’s all to get ready for the birth of your baby!

Exhaustion: The last few days of pregnancy can be feel very uncomfortable and the sleep deprivation and exhaustion won’t help. Your belly is the biggest it’s going to get, your potty breaks (like we’ve said) become much more frequent, and, well…what is sleep? Some moms get an urge to start nesting, which is another one of the normal signs labor is approaching. We know you’ve heard it before but, do your best to try and take it easy.

Signs It’s Actually Go Time and You’re in Labor

Bloody Show discharge: As your cervix begins to soften and dilate, it causes the mucus inside to dislodge. You may notice a blob or smear of discharge that looks brown (from old blood) or pink. Either way, if you’re seeing the “bloody show” labor could be hours (sometimes days) away.

Regular, strong contractions: If you’re feeling a tight band of cramps that start in your back and work their way to the front of your belly, these are signs labor is approaching. Contractions start as mild, irregular cramps and increase in both frequency and intensity as you move through the stages of labor.

Back labor pain: A common complaint for women is that they experience back pain throughout their pregnancy. But for some women, as they got closer to labor and delivery, this actually morphs into back labor – an intense and harsh pain that aches all the way down your back. As the baby moves down into the birth canal, it’s possible for the skull to hit your spine causing uncomfortable back pain. Rest assured, if you’re experiencing back labor, then labor is right around the corner. If the pain is excruciating, contact your healthcare provider.

Water breaks: Contrary to popular belief, only between 8-15% of all women actually experience their water breaking. This is due to the sac of amniotic fluid breaking, which causes a small leak of fluid to leak out. If you are one of the women who has your water break, expect labor to happen pretty soon after. 80% of women go into labor within 12 hours after their water breaks and some of these women have their water broken when they are admitted, just before active labor starts.

If you think you’re close or have any questions about your labor, contact your healthcare provider. They will know your history the most intimately and can give you insight into what clues you can watch for. In the meantime, rest up and get ready to meet your baby.

See our our postpartum must-haves here.

Common Questions:

What are some signs that labor is nearing?

The signs that labor is nearing can vary from woman to woman. The timing of when the physical signs occur can range with some happening around a month before labor and others weeks, days, or hours before labor begins. Here are possible signs that labor is nearing:
• The baby drops into the pelvic area
• An increase in back pain
• Change in vaginal discharge
• Relaxed joints (important for the birth process)
• No longer gaining weight
• Braxton Hicks contractions
• Cramping
• Dilation of the cervix
• Diarrhea
• Fatigue
• Increased energy associated with the desire to nest
• Water breaks
• More consistent contractions that grow in intensity and frequency

Does pelvic pressure mean labor is coming?

Prior to birth, the baby drops lower into the pelvic area, which causes a feeling of pelvic pressure. Since the baby dropping is a sign of approaching labor, increased pelvic pressure can be a sign that labor is nearing, although it may still be a few weeks or days before labor.

Does baby move more before labor?

A baby continues to move before labor, but not necessarily more frequently. It is important to be aware of the baby’s movement up until labor and notify your healthcare provider in movement stops.

How long can you be in pre-labor?

Pre-labor typically occurs around two to four weeks before the start of labor, therefore last around two to four weeks. However, some signs of pre-labor may occur only days before labor begins.