Cervical mucus is something most women are familiar with. It's a type of discharge occuring at different times during our menstrual cycle, and it plays an important role during pregnancy as well.
The cervix secretes thick mucus to protect your uterus and reproductive organs from invading bacteria and other pathogens. At the time of ovulation, the mucus changes and acts as a protective path for sperm to travel safely. You might notice an increase in cervical mucus around the time of your ovulation, due to surging levels of estrogen.
What Is a Mucus Plug?
If an egg is fertilised and implants in the uterus, continuing high levels of estrogen cause the cervical glands to secrete more cervical fluid. This fluid accumulates in the cervix and thickens, forming a seal called an operculum, or more commonly the mucus plug. The plug adds an extra layer of protection for your baby.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, your cervix begins to ripen and soften, preparing for labour. This can happen weeks or hours before labour begins, and there is no way of knowing how long this will process take. As the cervix begins to change, some of the mucus plug may come away.
Many women don’t notice their plug coming away due to increased cervical mucus occurring during pregnancy. This is known as leucorrhea, and is a whitish colored vaginal discharge women normally see during pregnancy.
What Does The Mucus Plug Look Like?
The mucus plug is usually a clear or cloudy creamy white colour. It can be tinged with pink, red or even brown. This is due to small blood vessels breaking when the cervix begins to thin and dilate. The blood gets caught in the mucus plug and why it is also known as ‘bloody show’.
The consistency of the mucus plug varies. It might be like a jelly, or stringy or even a sticky discharge. When the plug begins to come away, it can be in a continuous discharge or it can actually resemble a plug. Not all women actually see their mucus plug until they are well into labour.
What Do I Do If The Mucus Plug Comes Away?
Many women notice their mucus plug after wiping themselves with toilet paper. You might notice some discharge in your underwear or if you’ve been wearing sanitary pads.
If you are unsure if the discharge is your mucus plug, pop on a sanitary pad and keep and eye on the amount and colour. You can show the pad to your care provider if you are unsure or have concerns. Don’t worry – they’ve seen all kinds of body fluids in their role and won’t mind.
If the show is quite heavy and you have had good contractions, your midwives may be quite excited as it means things are moving along well and your cervix is dilating. They can reassure you of this without having to perform a vaginal examination.
Do I Need To Call My Care Provider?
If your mucus plug appears normal in colour, there is no need to contact your care provider. You can let them know at your next check up or if you go into labour.
If you experience any bright red discharge it is best to let your care provider know, so they can make an assessment if necessary. Discharge that is green-yellow should also be reported, as it is possible meconium (baby’s first poo) is present and will need to be investigated in case your baby is in distress.
When I Will I Lose My Mucus Plug?
There is no exact science as to when labour will begin – each woman is different and her experience of labour can change every time she has a baby. The mucus plug is only one of a number of signs that labour is ahead of you.
A member poll in the BellyBelly forums showed:
- 45% of women lost their mucus plug 1-2 weeks before labour started
- 34% saw their mucus plug 2 days before labour began
- 30% of women lost their mucus plug during labour
- Around 17.65% didn’t see theirs at all
It’s easy to feel very excited if you do see your show but try to avoid getting too excited and telling everyone immediately – it might still take some time before labour gets underway. Dealing with frequent phone calls and unexpected visits from well meaning family and friends may get overwhelming and could even slow your labour down.
Early labour can take a while to establish, so if your mucus plug begins to come away and you aren’t yet experiencing contractions, try to relax and stay calm while you wait for things to progress. Your body will conserve energy for the more active stage of labour later on if you don’t try and get things moving too early. Go about your day as usual and feel confident things are happening and labour is not too far away.
Recommended Reading: 13 Natural Pain Relief Options For Labour.