How to Tell If You've Lost Your Mucus Plug
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If you have parent friends, they’ve probably prepared you for the increased role that bodily fluids and other yucky stuff will play in your life after Baby arrives. (Pee, poo, and puke are just part of parenting!) And what you may have come to realize is that you also have to embrace a bit of “ick” pre-baby too. With that, let’s dive right into two of the least elegant words in the English language: mucus plug.
What the mucus plug lacks in glamour, it makes up for in functionality. So, what is a mucus plug? And what does it mean when you lose your mucus plug? Here’s what expecting parents need to know…
What is a mucus plug?
The mucus plug is a tightly gathered collection of cervical mucus that seals the cervix shut. During pregnancy the cervix, which is shaped like donut, closes as tightly as it can in order to keep the uterus safe from infection. The mucus plug kind of functions like the lock on the door—or even like a wine cork—that keeps bacteria away from your developing bub.
Cervical mucus is always present, but it begins to thicken and become very dense soon after conception thanks to the hormone called progesterone. This is the hormone that helps usher the fertilized egg to the uterus and then helps to maintain the pregnancy. Once the cervical mucus thickens and creates a mucus plug, the cervix “door” is basically closed until the final stages of pregnancy when a cascade of hormones tell it to open again for birth and delivery.
What does a mucus plug look like?
A mucus plug is thick, opaque, and paste- or jelly-like in texture. It could appear white or tinged with blood—but you likely won’t see your mucus plug until the end of pregnancy. (Wondering what normal discharge looks like? Check out our guide to decoding pregnancy discharge!)
What happens when you lose your mucus plug?
Even though the cervix has created a pretty strong mucus plug, after week 34 or so, the cervix will ramp up on creating mucus in order to prevent infections. If you notice thick pink-tinged discharge or a jelly-like substance in your underpants then you might be losing your mucus plug.
Losing the mucus plug is a sign that the cervix is beginning to dilate, which will set the stage for it to expand wide enough for birth. As the cervix does open up, it’ll push the mucus plug into the vagina. This is generally a sign that labor will begin soon. However, the word ‘soon’ is relative, it could still be several days before labor starts. (More signs that labor is starting!)
When the mucus plug comes out, it is sometimes referred to as bloody show, due to its pink, brown, blood-tinged appearance. Pinkish mucus is normal. Greenish or yellow discharge may be an indicator of a yeast or bacterial infections. It is important to know that some people grow back their mucus plug if it’s lost too soon. You may only lose pieces of it at a time, and some folks hardly notice they lost it at all.
How do you know if you’ve lost your mucus plug?
Remember, not all pregnant people will even know they’ve lost their mucus plug, and it doesn’t always come out as a nice clean cork! Most often, it will look like bits of thick, stringy, jelly-like mucus (thicker and more opaque than typical discharge). But you may only notice a small amount at a time.
How long after losing your mucus plug do you go into labor?
Like other aspects of pregnancy, it would be great if there were a crystal ball that could give definitive answers of when things will happen. Alas, pregnancy doesn’t work that way. We can say, though, that if you notice you’ve lost your mucus plug, it can be a sign that labor is imminent—especially when other signs of labor are beginning to occur.
If you experience these other symptoms then it might be time to call your doctor or midwife:
- Contractions that are getting stronger and are at regular intervals
- Water breaking (what it feels like when your water breaks)
- Losing the mucus plug before 37 weeks
- Bright red blood (more on bleeding during pregnancy)
More on Pregnancy and Labor:
- Natural Ways to Induce Labor: Fact vs Fiction
- Is Hypnobirthing Right for You?
- Weird Things That Happen to Your Body After Birth
- Dilation and Effacement: What’s Happening to Your Body?
- Affirmations to Prepare for Labor and Delivery
- Cervical Mucus Properties Stratify Risk for Preterm Birth, PLoS One, August 2013
- The Cervical Mucus Plug: Structured Review of the Literature, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, July 2009
- The Structure and Function of the Cervix During Pregnancy, Translational Research in Anatomy, March 2016
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: what Does It Mean to Lose Your Mucus Plug?
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: How to Tell When Labor Begins
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health: Labor and Birth
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.