If you think people are pulling your leg when talking about the mucus plug, they’re not — it’s a real thing. So why haven’t you heard more about it?
The mucus plug is often left out of conversation because they are one of the less glorious parts of pregnancy. Many expectant mothers might make it through most of their pregnancy before they even hear about the mucus plug or bloody show.
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.
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. It finds a home right near your cervix and blocks your cervical canal. It gets wedged inside your cervix and will not release until close to delivery.
Its presence is important because it inhibits harmful bacteria and pathogens from making their way into your uterus (1). This is especially beneficial during sexual activity or when you have vaginal exams.
How Is The Mucus Plug Formed?
The mucus plug is formed by secretions from your cervical glands. It is a thick material with a similar texture to gelatin. It will thicken each month until you are near delivery.
Your mucus plug begins forming when the ovum implants in the uterine cavity around the end of your first month of pregnancy. Your cervix softens around this time, which allows the area to become filled with the cervical mucus, creating 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 kind of resembles boogers — not so classy, but it serves a purpose.
The plug is thick when in place, but it usually thins out and develops a liquidy texture when passing.
The plug is usually about 4 to 5 centimeters long, but it is not unusual for your mucus plug to come out in pieces and not all at once.
You may notice red streaks within your mucus plug because as your uterus expands to release the plug, capillaries can burst, causing a minor amount of bleeding, leading 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. But some of the pictures might make you squeamish, so be prepared!
When Does It Come Out?
Most women — but not all — lose their mucus plug toward the end of their pregnancy. This generally occurs between 37 to 42 weeks of gestation. Losing your mucus plug is a sign that your cervix is beginning to dilate.
You will typically lose your mucus plug as your baby drops and settles into your lower pelvis. When this happens, it causes your cervix to begin ripening for labor.
If you believe you’ve lost your mucus plug before 36 weeks, you should reach out to your doctor.
When the cervix ripens, it causes the area to loosen, expelling the mucus plug.
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 Know It When You See It
Losing Your Mucus Plug
The way a woman loses the mucus plug is different for women experiencing their first pregnancy than women who have already had children. Some women don’t lose their mucus plug at all during pregnancy.
Women who have already experienced childbirth have a wider cervical canal than women experiencing their 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.
Many women lose their mucus plug in the shower or after using the restroom, and most lose it in pieces. It isn’t uncommon for pregnant women to not even notice that they’ve lost their mucus plug.
Does It Hurt?
It is generally painless when you lose your mucus plug.
But it can be a little frightening 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. And while this is true, your mucus plug is totally harmless.
While most women don’t notice any particular feeling, some women experience pain similar to slight menstrual cramps when they lose it. If you experience very uncomfortable cramping, 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 — relax in 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 probably means labor is very near (2). However, you should contact a doctor if you haven’t lost your mucus plug and are leaking fluid.
Once you lose it, you can contact your doctor to see if they want you to come in to get checked out. Losing your mucus plug is usually 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. It doesn’t mean your baby is open to infections just because the mucus plug is gone. If your water hasn’t broken yet, your baby will still have the bag of waters to serve as protection.
While your baby is still protected, there are some precautions you need to take to ensure that infection doesn’t pass through.
- Avoid sexual activity: Having sex after losing your mucus plug can cause bacteria or infection 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, but if you wish to minimize all risks, it’s best to avoid it.
- Focus on personal hygiene: Change your underwear often to prevent bacteria buildup.
Try your best to eliminate anything that could cause infection.
How Soon Will Labor Begin?
Doctors typically say you should not release your mucus plug 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. If your water is leaking, your mucus plug may still be in place. But if your water breaks, your mucus plug is no longer present.
Many women seem to be confused because 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 your water.
Your Mucus Plug Can Come Back
A pregnant woman can lose her mucus plug, not go into labor shortly after, then grow a new mucus plug.
While it seems like a gross substance, mucus has nearly magical properties and will regenerate if your baby isn’t ready to be born. Not every woman 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 about any underlying issues.
When Should You Call the Doctor?
Contact your doctor if you lose more than a tablespoon of blood when your mucus plug comes out. Losing more than one tablespoon of blood can indicate underlying problems like placenta previa or placental abruption.
Placenta previa is when your placenta sits in the bottom half of your uterus, 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 because of bleeding during pregnancy. Although you may not feel pain, it is generally associated with a significant amount of bleeding (3).
During my second pregnancy, I went to my doctor because I was bleeding. I learned I had 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 required a C-section
Editor's Note:Jennifer Schlette, MSN, RN
Placental abruption can also be discovered due to losing the mucus plug and noticing large amounts of bright blood. The bleeding associated with this is very heavy, and you would also feel significant pain.
Placental abruption is when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. It can be hazardous for both the mother and the baby, so medical attention is necessary right away (4).
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 as the Mucus Plug?
Bloody show and the mucus plug are not the same things.
Some women seem confused about the difference between the bloody show and the mucus plug. This confusion is understandable, considering some blood may pass with the mucus plug.
Some people refer to bloody show and mucus plug interchangeably because they can frequently happen together. However, there are rather distinct differences that separate the two.
Bloody show is when blood passes out of the vagina and is mixed with mucus. This typically happens after a vaginal exam. There usually isn’t much substance to this stringy mucus.
However, the mucus plug is thick and gelatinous and may have 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 will not help you trigger the onset of 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 probably just regenerate (5).
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.
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, you lose it.
Your mucus plug should fall out after 37 weeks of pregnancy. If this happens sooner, you should contact your doctor.
It usually does not hurt to lose your mucus plug — in fact, you may not even notice you lost it! However, once you lose the plug, it should only be a matter of hours or days before labor begins.
It is normal to see some blood within your mucus plug, but losing more than one tablespoon of blood 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.