In early pregnancy, your body creates a barrier between the outside world and your developing baby.
The cervical mucus plug is something you don’t really think much about – at least, not until you get to the end of pregnancy and you start to look for the signs of labor.
Does seeing the mucus plug necessarily mean labor is imminent, is it the plug or discharge?
Let’s find out everything about the mucus plug.
What is a mucus plug?
Your baby is inside the amniotic sac inside your uterus.
The cervix is a canal of tissue that joins the vagina and the uterus. At the early pregnancy stage, a thick jelly-like fluid mucus plug forms in your cervix to protect your baby from infection.
The plug is a collection of mucus that accumulates in the cervical canal.
The mucus has antibodies to protect your baby from bacteria, viruses and infections. It provides vital protection for you and for your baby’s health.
You might be surprised at how much mucus is collected in your cervix. That’s because the cervix continues to make the mucus and amazingly regenerates.
When do you lose your mucus plug?
As your body prepares for birth, the cervix starts to thin. Thinning (or effacement) allows the cervix to dilate during labor. The uterine contractions draw the cervix up and it opens.
As the cervix thins, it will also dilate a small amount, allowing the mucus plug to loosen and come away.
This process can happen over several weeks before you actually go into labor. Some mothers, especially those having their second baby, won’t notice any signs their cervix is thinning until they’re actually in early labor.
Mucus plug or discharge?
Many women find they have a lot more vaginal discharge during pregnancy. This can be clear, white or creamy; it is odorless.
Check out Discharge During Pregnancy | What’s Normal and What’s Not for more information.
It can be difficult to tell whether what you’re looking at is just more discharge or your mucus plug.
The mucus plug is usually a jelly-like, thick, snotty, stringy or even sticky discharge.
It can be tinged with pink, red or even brown. This happens when small blood vessels break as the cervix starts to soften and thin.
In pregnancy, you can have many different types of vaginal loss and it can be difficult to tell what it is. You can send a pic to your healthcare provider, or describe what it looks like.
Find out more in our article What Does A Mucus Plug Look Like? Losing The Mucus Plug.
Can mucus plug come out slowly?
Some women don’t even notice their mucus plug because it comes out slowly over a few days, or even weeks.
You might see it as one obvious blob of mucus plug, when wiping with toilet paper, or you might notice an increased vaginal discharge over a few days. If you lose the mucus plug all at once, it might have an obvious plug shape, about 4-5cm long.
If you’re not sure what your vaginal loss actually is, pop a sanitary pad on it and keep an eye on the amount and color of the discharge.
You can show the pad to your doctor or midwife if you’re unsure or have concerns.
Don’t worry; they have seen all kinds of bodily fluids before and won’t mind what it looks like.
What does losing your mucus plug mean?
Losing your mucus plug might be one of the early labor symptoms. It means labor is approaching as the cervix begins to open up and the thick plug is released.
As mentioned earlier, your cervix is starting to ripen and thin. This is the pre-stage of labor.
Labor might still be some days away, but it’s OK to get a bit excited. More about this later.
If you start to lose your mucus plug, it’s a good signal to you and your birth partner to slow down and take good care of yourselves.
Make sure you have lots of sleep and good food. You will need the energy later, when labor starts.
Maybe you could put the last few things in your labor bag, then relax as best you can. Your baby is coming soon and you’ll need all the rest you can get before labor begins.
Mucus plug color chart
The mucus plug discharge can have different colors and most of them are okay. Let’s see the reasons for the different colors.
1. White mucus plug
Most parts of the mucus plug are whitish in color. The mucus plug is a lot of mucus together and it takes on a creamy color (you can see I’m avoiding saying ‘white’).
2. Brown mucus plug
As the mucus plug forms over many weeks, any small blood vessels that break in the cervical canal would tinge the mucus plug. The blood would become part of the plug and turn brown.
3. Pink mucus plug
If there is a pink color in your mucus plug, this comes from freshly broken little blood vessels around the cervix. There isn’t a lot of blood and it mixes well with all the mucus, so the plug has a slightly pink tinge.
4. Green mucus plug
Green has never been a good color for stuff coming out of your body, right?
However, we’re talking about mucus and a plug made of it.
Research shows that the cervical mucus plug inhibits ascending bacteria but it doesn’t completely block it.
In that case, how do we differentiate simple mucus from a possible infection?
Although common sense goes a long way here, I’d suggest calling your healthcare provider. It’s the right way to go if there is any kind of green coloring in your vaginal discharge.
5. Red mucus plug
Sometimes the mucus plug comes out when there’s more cervical activity and several small blood vessels break and make the plug blood-tinged.
Bright red blood is always scary. If the blood mixes well with the mucus and you don’t see clots forming, it’s an okay amount of bright red blood. Here the red mucus plug is accompanied by a bloody show.
If you see blood clots, though, call the emergency services, as this is considered heavy bleeding.
Do I need to call my healthcare provider?
Losing your mucus plug is exciting but it might be a while before labor starts. It’s best just to rest and be prepared.
You should call your doctor or midwife, however, if:
- You see a lot of bright red bleeding. This could be a bloody show or it could be a sign of problems with your placenta
- The mucus plug is green. As discussed, any green vaginal discharge is a ‘NO’
- You notice a foul odor. This could be a sign of infection (the color might also be green)
- You’re under 37 weeks of pregnancy. This might be a sign of preterm labor
- If your water breaks or you are unsure or worried about the color. Water breaking isn’t always a sudden gush of clear fluid.
- You have persistent pain. Pain is never normal. If you experience pain, even if you have your typical vaginal discharge, contact your provider.
Remember, losing your mucus plug is one of many other labor symptoms. You can put a sanitary pad on if you’re not sure about any vaginal leaking or bloody show. Keep your pad or panty liner, in case you need to show the doctor. If you’re concerned about anything, call your healthcare provider for advice.
How long after losing the mucus plug does labor start?
To lose your mucus plug is only one of a number of signs that labor is beginning.
Look at our article Signs Of Labour | Could I Be In Early Labour? for other signs you might notice.
Every woman is different, and every pregnancy and every labor is different.
A member poll in the BellyBelly forums showed:
- 45% of women lost their mucus plug 1-2 weeks before labor started
- 34% saw their mucus plug 2 days before labor began
- 30% of women lost their mucus plug during labor
- Around 17.65% didn’t see theirs at all.
Can you lose your mucus plug more than once?
If the mucus plug comes out gradually, it might seem like it’s happening more than once; in fact, it’s just more of the same.
The cervix regularly makes more mucus during pregnancy so there can be a lot of mucus to lose. Even when you think you’ve seen the entire mucus plug, you might still see some more later.
Interestingly, many women will have another mucus bloody show just before they are ready to push their baby out. It’s one of the signs of progress midwives look out for.
The bloody show happens when the cervix is fully dilated and the baby is moving down the birth canal.
What should I do if I lose my mucus plug?
Losing the mucus plug is a sign of the cervix softening and that’s brilliant. Your cervix prepares as labor approaches.
If you lose your mucus plug at 37 or more weeks pregnant and it looks normal, even if you feel a bit of pelvic pressure, then you don’t necessarily need to do anything.
You might want to call your doctor or midwife, especially if you’re anxious about birth or if you go into labor soon after.
But there’s no need to do anything if you lose your mucus plug. Labor contractions could be some time away so it’s great just to carry on with normal life and see what happens.
You can practise your breathing and relaxation techniques, in preparation for when early labor contractions start.
Unless friends and family are part of your support team, you don’t need to let them know things are happening just yet, or they might want progress updates.
This can make you feel you’re under pressure, like a watched pot! It can stall any contractions you were having and slow things right down.
It’s best to tell just your birth partner. This time is all about you and your baby.
Get plenty of rest, eat well and stay hydrated. Finish packing your labor bag and chill.
Good things are happening and labor is not too far away.