What the heck is a mucus plug? And what purpose does it play during pregnancy?
If you think people are pulling your leg when talking about mucus plugs, they’re not — it’s a real thing. So why haven’t you heard more about them?
Mucus plugs are often left out of the conversation because they are one of the less glorious parts of pregnancy. Many expectant mothers might make it through the majority of their pregnancy before they even realize the mucus plug is a thing.
If you learn about the mucus plug and its purpose, you will be more prepared for your pregnancy because the mucus plug plays many beneficial roles you might be curious about.
What Is The Mucus Plug?
The mucus plug is precisely what its name says it is — a plug composed of mucus. This plug will develop throughout your pregnancy, and it finds a home right near your cervix to block your cervical canal. It wedges itself inside your cervix and will not be released until close to delivery.
Its presence is important because it inhibits harmful outside bacteria and pathogens from making their way into your uterus (1). This is especially beneficial during sexual activity or when you have your vaginal exams.
How Is The Mucus Plug Formed?
The mucus plug is formed by secretions from your cervical glands. It is a thick material that reflects the composition of gelatin. It will thicken each month until you are near delivery.
Your mucus plug begins forming when the ovum is implanted into the uterine cavity around the end of your first month of pregnancy. Your cervix will soften around the end of your first month, and this allows the area to become filled with the cervical mucus and create a seal for the uterus.
Your mucus plug is not fully formed at this point — it increases in its consistency every month of your pregnancy.
What Does It Look Like?
Your mucus plug can vary in color, but it is typically, clear, yellow, green, pink, white, or brown. The mucus plug will probably resemble what snot from your nose looks like.
The plug is thick when it is in place, but it usually thins out and develops a liquidy texture upon losing it.
The plug is usually about 4 to 5 centimeters long, but it is not unusual for your mucus plug to come out in parts and not all at once.
You may notice red streaks within your mucus plug because as your uterine expands to release the plug, capillaries can burst, causing a minor amount of bleeding, and lead to the streaking.
If you are a visual person, you can look up numerous pictures on Google to give you an idea of what you should be looking for. Some of the pictures might make you slightly squeamish, so be prepared!
When Does It Come Out?
You should lose your mucus plug toward the end of your pregnancy, but this is not always the case. This will generally occur between 37 to 42 weeks of gestation. Losing your mucus plug is a sign that your cervix is beginning to dilate.
Typically, your mucus plug will be lost as a result of your baby dropping and settling into your lower pelvis. When this happens, it causes your cervix to begin ripening for labor.
If you are still in the earlier stages of your pregnancy and believe you have lost it at less than 36 weeks, you should reach out to your doctor.
When the cervix ripens, it causes the mucus plug to no longer be held firmly in place, so it is expelled.
It is typical to experience a heavier discharge when you are pregnant. Many women are afraid they will not be able to distinguish the difference between normal discharge and losing their mucus plug.
You’ll Notice It If You See It
Losing Your Mucus Plug
The way a woman loses the mucus plug varies by women who are experiencing their first pregnancy, and women who have already had children. Or in some cases, some women may not lose their mucus plug at all during pregnancy.
Women who have already experienced childbirth have a cervical canal with a larger diameter than a woman experiencing her first pregnancy.
The cervical space during your first pregnancy is not as elastic as it is for a woman who has already given birth. This means a first pregnancy presents a higher chance of blood within your mucus plug.
This isn’t dangerous as long as it isn’t a significant amount. You will also probably lose your mucus plug in pieces rather than all at once (2).
You will likely lose your mucus plug in the shower or after using the restroom. It is not uncommon for pregnant women to not even notice the loss of their mucus plug.
The mucus plug can pass in different ways for every woman. The details above are just the general representation for what usually occurs.
Does It Hurt?
It is generally painless when you lose it. There is a high chance you won’t even realize it happened.
It may be scary to realize you lost your mucus plug, especially if you don’t know much about it. Most women know it’s not normal for significant amounts of anything to be coming out when they are pregnant. This is true, but your mucus plug is totally harmless.
While some don’t notice it at all, some women experience pain similar to slight menstrual cramps when they lose it. If you experience cramping that is extremely uncomfortable, it could be a sign of labor beginning, so don’t assume it is your body trying to release your mucus plug.
Steps To Take After Losing It
Losing your mucus plug is usually a sign your body is preparing for labor. This does not mean labor is going to happen right away. It can take anywhere from several minutes to several weeks before labor begins.
As long as you don’t experience consistent contractions and your water has yet to break, you still have plenty of time before the real deal begins. Don’t panic at the sight of your mucus plug — just relax knowing the end is in sight.
It is possible for you to leak amniotic fluid through a tear in your mucus plug. This is not dangerous — it just probably means labor is very near (3). You should contact a doctor if you haven’t lost your mucus plug and are leaking fluid though.
Once you lose it, you can contact your doctor to see if he or she wants you to come in to get checked out. Usually, the loss of a mucus plug is not grounds for a doctor’s visit, but it may help give you some peace of mind.
Is It Harmful To Lose It?
Your mucus plug served as an extra layer of protection. Just because it is gone, doesn’t mean your baby is open to all infections though. If your water has yet to break, then your baby still has the bag of waters to serve as protection.
While your baby is still protected, there are some precautions you need to take to ensure the infection doesn’t pass through.
- Avoid sexual activity: Infection would be able to spread from the vagina into the uterus.
- Avoid swimming or bathing: Bathing is sometimes okay if you aren’t introducing soaps or other products into your water.
- Focus on personal hygiene: Change your underwear often.
It is essential you try your best to eliminate anything that could cause the potential for infection.
How Soon Will Labor Begin?
Doctors will typically say your mucus plug should not be released any more than two weeks before your delivery date. In most cases, a pregnant woman will lose the plug 3 to 5 days before labor.
If this isn’t your first baby, it is very likely the onset of labor could begin within several hours of losing your mucus plug.
Once again, these are just average numbers. They aren’t reflective of every single pregnancy. It is safe to say losing your mucus plug is a strong indication that labor is in the near future.
Will You Lose It For Sure?
Not all pregnant women will lose their mucus plug before labor. It is essential to know if your water breaks, your mucus plug is no longer present. If your water is just leaking, then your mucus plug can still be in place.
Many women seem to be confused by the fact they haven’t lost their mucus plug, but their water has broken. It is possible you lost the plug and did not notice it, or it passed with the breaking of your water.
Your Mucus Plug Can Come Back
It is possible for a pregnant woman to lose her mucus plug, not go into labor shortly after, and then grow a new mucus plug.
Mucus can work wonders, and it will regenerate a new plug if the baby is not ready to be born. Not every pregnancy will regrow a lost mucus plug. This typically occurs if the plug was lost too early and the onset of labor is not going to begin for a couple of weeks.
This process does not disturb your baby in any way either, so don’t be concerned it will cause underlying issues.
When Should You Call The Doctor?
If the loss of your mucus blood comes with a decent amount of bright red blood — about one tablespoon or more — contact your doctor.
This can be an indication of underlying problems like placenta previa or placental abruption.
Placenta previa is when your placenta is in the bottom half of your uterus, usually fully or partially covering the cervix. This condition is typically pain-free and affects 1 in 200 pregnancies. Placenta previa is typically diagnosed during a routine ultrasound in the second trimester or is found because the woman sees the doctor for bleeding. Although you may not feel pain, it is associated with a significant amount of bleeding (4).
During my second pregnancy I went to my doctor because I was bleeding. I was found to have a partial placenta previa. As I approached my due date, it was noted that the placenta moved away from the cervix so I was able to deliver vaginally. If it did not move by 36 weeks, I would have had to have a c-section
Editor's Note:Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN
Placental abruption can also be a result of losing your mucus plug and noticing large amounts of bright blood. The bleeding associated with this would be very heavy, and you would also feel significant pain.
Placental abruption is when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. It can be very dangerous for both the mother and the baby, so medical attention is necessary right away (5).
It is perfectly normal to notice blood with the loss of your mucus plug. You should only be concerned if the amount of blood lost seems to be more than one tablespoon. You don’t have to contact your doctor if the amount is less than this.
Is Bloody Show The Same Thing?
Bloody show and the mucus plug are not the same things.
Some women seem to be confused about bloody show and their mucus plug. This is understandable considering there can be a presence of blood within the mucus plug.
Some individuals tend to use bloody show and mucus plug interchangeably because they can frequently happen together. There are rather distinct differences that separate the two though.
Bloody show is when blood passes out of the vagina and it is mixed with mucus. This typically happens after a vaginal exam. There usually isn’t much substance to this stringy mucus.
The mucus plug, however, is rather thick and gelatinous with strands of blood within it.
Can You Dislodge Your Mucus Plug?
Some moms are past their due date and looking for any and every idea to help them jumpstart their labor. You may think that losing your mucus plug should do the trick.
While it is true that losing your mucus plug is a sign of labor, it is not going to help you trigger the onset labor if you lose it deliberately.
Your body loses the mucus plug when it is preparing for cervical dilation. If you lose your mucus plug before you are ready, it will most likely just regenerate (6).
Don’t Do It
With due time, your body will make its own preparations and bring you your bundle of joy before you know it. Enjoy these last moments with your little one on the inside — you will never get them back.
You have the rest of your life to spend with them on the outside, and such a short amount of time while on the inside. Make sure you cherish every moment!
The Bottom Line
The mucus plug is a gelatinous membrane that serves as a barrier between your baby and the outside world. It thickens month by month until eventually it is lost.
Your mucus plug should fall out after 37 weeks of pregnancy. If this happens before, then you should contact your doctor.
It usually does not hurt when you lose your mucus plug — in fact, you may not even notice you lost it! Once you lose the plug, however, it should only be a matter of hours or days before labor begins.
It is normal to experience some blood within your mucus plug, but blood over one tablespoon is a cause for concern. You generally do not have to contact your doctor about the loss of your mucus plug unless there is a significant amount of blood present.
Once you lose your mucus plug, the countdown to meeting your little one begins and that special moment is right around the corner.