In the first months of pregnancy, your body creates a barrier between the outside world and your developing baby.
The mucus plug is something you don’t really think 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?
Let’s find out everything about the mucus plug.
What is a mucus plug?
The cervix is a canal of tissue that joins the vagina and the uterus. During pregnancy, a thick mucus plug forms in your cervix to protect your baby from infection.
The plug is a collection of mucus, which is jelly-like fluid. It 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, your 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 (leukorrhea) during pregnancy. This can be clear, white, or creamy, and 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 a lot of 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 a few weeks.
You might see it as one obvious blob of mucus plug, when wiping with toilet paper, or just see an increase in mucus-like vaginal discharge over a few days. If you lose all of it at once, it’s usually an obvious plug shape, around 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 your pad to your doctor or midwife if you’re unsure or have concerns.
Don’t worry – they have seen all kinds of body fluids before and won’t mind what it looks like.
Is losing the mucus plug the same as waters breaking?
Your baby is growing inside a double-layered membrane inside the uterus, called the amniotic sac. When the sac breaks, the amniotic fluid is released. People often refer to this as the ‘water breaking’ and labor usually starts soon after.
The mucus plug is an extra layer of protection, outside the membranes, found in the cervix or opening of the uterus.
Remember, if you’re not sure what’s happening, put a pad on and contact your doctor or midwife for medical advice and support.
This is important, because if the water breaks and the fluid is green, this could affect your baby’s health.
What does losing your mucus plug mean?
Losing your mucus plug might be one of the signs of labor starting.
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 food. You will need the energy later for 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 – you’ll need all the rest you can get.
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. This could be a sign of meconium (your baby’s first poo) and could mean your baby is in distress
- 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
- You have persistent pain. The pain doesn’t stop, and your abdomen stays hard.
Remember, you can put a sanitary pad on if you’re not sure about any vaginal leaking or bloody show. 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 about Signs Of Labor 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, but 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.
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 your cervix is changing, and that’s brilliant.
If you lose your mucus plug at 37 or more weeks pregnant and it looks normal, 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 practice 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.