A Guide to Losing Your Mucus Plug and What to Expect
As a pregnant woman, you’re probably already used to life with more vaginal discharge than normal. However, as you approach the end of your pregnancy, it’s important to be aware of one key event that can look very similar to heavy discharge: losing your mucus plug.
If you’ve never heard about the mucus plug before or don’t quite know what to expect – you’re in the right place! This article will cover everything you need to know about what a mucus plug is, what it looks like, and when you can expect to lose it. We’ll also cover other early signs of labor and situations where you should contact your doctor.
What is a mucus plug?
A mucus plug is a collection of jelly-like mucus that forms inside the cervix during pregnancy. Its purpose is to act as a barrier between the vagina and the uterus. This helps to protect the pregnancy by preventing potentially harmful bacteria and viruses from entering the uterus.
The mucus plug is eventually expelled through the vagina sometime before labor and often resembles heavy discharge. Because every pregnancy and body is different, the release of the mucus plug can occur anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before labor.
Mucus plugs and pregnancy
What does a mucus plug look like?
Inside the body, the mucus plug sits inside the cervical canal between the vagina and uterus. It is a thick, “gloopy” collection of mucus that is no more than 2 tablespoons in volume. In terms of color, the mucus plug can range from clear, white, off-white, yellow, pink, red, or brown.
Losing your mucus plug
When do you lose your mucus plug?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the mucus plug is typically released sometime after week 37 of pregnancy. While some women lose their mucus plug all in one go, it’s also perfectly normal to lose it gradually in the final days or weeks of pregnancy.
If you are approaching labor and still haven’t lost your mucus plug, don’t worry! Some women do not lose their mucus plug until they are actually in labor.
If you haven’t reached 37 weeks of pregnancy yet but think that you have already lost your mucus plug, it’s a good idea to go ahead and speak with your doctor. They can perform any necessary checks and offer reassurance on the health of your pregnancy.
What does mucus plug discharge look like?
When the mucus plug is released from the body, it looks very similar to heavy discharge. For example, it can be clear, white, off-white, or even yellowish in color. In some cases, it may have blood in it which may cause it to have a red, pink, or brown tinge.
A typical mucus plug can be anywhere from 1-2 tablespoons in volume and 1-2 inches in length, and it can feel stringy, stretchy, or gooey to the touch.
What can cause you to lose your mucus plug?
There are a few different events that may cause you to lose your mucus plug.
For example, even though it’s safe to have sex while pregnant, sexual intercourse can disrupt the mucus plug resulting in its release. As you approach your 37-week milestone of pregnancy, try to be aware of this and proceed carefully when having sex with your partner. If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and think that you’ve lost your mucus plug due to sex, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor just to be on the safe side.
In addition to sex, a cervical exam is another potential event that may lead to the loss of the mucus plug. That’s because this exam may disrupt the opening of the cervix, causing your mucus plug to become dislodged. Again, if this occurs prior to 37 weeks, speak with your doctor immediately.
Finally, nature has its own way of passing the mucus plug by dilating and softening the cervix. This process is completely normal and necessary for preparing the body for delivery, and it typically occurs sometime in the final three weeks of pregnancy.
When does labor start after losing your mucus plug?
After losing your mucus plug, labor can start anytime within the next weeks, days, or even hours if you’re closer to full term. However, it’s important to bear in mind that every pregnancy is different, with some women losing their mucus plug relatively early and others losing it as late as during labor itself.
Signs to look out for when losing your mucus plug
One of the tell-tale signs that you’ve lost your mucus plug is the presence of extra mucus that looks like discharge in your underwear or on a piece of toilet paper. This shouldn’t be painful or cause any major side effects, however, it is normal for the loss of a mucus plug to also be accompanied by early symptoms of labor such as cramping, contractions, or even membrane rupturing (i.e. your water breaking).
Upon losing your mucus plug, try to take note of what it looks like, how large it is, when it came out, and any associated symptoms. Your doctor or midwife may want to know this information the next time that they speak with you.
When to see a doctor
There are a few situations where you should contact your doctor upon losing your mucus plug. This includes all of the following scenarios:
- You have lost your mucus plug before week 37 of pregnancy.
- Losing your mucus plug was exceptionally painful.
- You lost large amounts of blood alongside your mucus plug.
- Your mucus plug is green or bright yellow in color.
- Your mucus plug has a foul-smelling odor.
- You experienced a large rush of fluid after losing your mucus plug.
Speak with your doctor immediately if you have experienced any of the above, and they can further assess your situation and pregnancy.
Signs you are in labor after losing your mucus plug
As you approach labor, your uterine muscles will periodically tighten and then relax. When this happens, it means you are experiencing contractions, and contractions help to make vaginal deliveries possible. Many women describe contractions as feeling like cramping, tightening, or pressure that comes in waves, typically starting in the lower back before moving to the abdomen.
In early labor, contractions may be short, mild, and irregular. However, as you progress through labor, your contractions will increase in intensity, occur more regularly, and last up to 70 seconds.
Once you begin experiencing contractions, take note of their timings and intensity. If they become stronger and occur in more regular intervals, it’s probably time to make your way to the hospital.
Labor contractions should not be confused with Braxton Hicks Contractions, which can begin as early as the second trimester. Unlike labor contractions, Braxton Hicks Contractions are spontaneous, unpredictable, and typically only last 15-30 seconds.
When the amniotic that surrounds your baby ruptures, it causes a rush of fluid to leave your body through your vagina. This is more commonly known as your “water breaking”, and it can cause contractions to either begin or intensify. While many women experience their water breaking all at once, it’s also normal for the fluid to trickle through in small amounts. When you suspect that your water has broken, you should head to the hospital immediately.
Lightening or “dropping” is the process where your baby will settle lower into your pelvis in order to get into a good position for labor. In some cases (typically with first pregnancies), lightening can occur as early as one month before delivery. However, in women who have had prior pregnancies, lightening may not occur until labor.
Unless it is accompanied by other symptoms such as your water breaking or frequent contractions, lightening alone is not a sign that you are in labor and need to go to the hospital.
Cramping and intense pain are other signs of labor. While much of the cramping sensation is due to contractions, it can also be caused by your baby putting pressure on your cervix, bladder, and bowels. This type of pain and cramping can be felt in the abdomen, back, groin, thighs, and everywhere in between. Many women describe this pain as feeling like menstrual cramping, while others describe it as similar to gastrointestinal cramping (such as when you have diarrhea).
If your water hasn’t broken yet but your cramping and contractions increase in intensity, it’s a good idea to give your healthcare provider a call and describe your symptoms. They can let you know whether it’s the right time to head to the hospital.
Mucus plug FAQ
Can I go into labor without losing my mucus plug?
Yes. You can still go into labor even if you don’t think that you’ve lost your mucus plug. In some cases, the mucus plug does not come out until the middle of labor. In other cases, the mucus plug may have already been lost in small amounts prior to labor without being noticed.
What’s the difference between losing mucus plug and discharge?
Vaginal discharge during pregnancy (often referred to as leukorrhea) is typically clear, white, milky white, or yellowish in color with a thin texture. While you may experience more discharge during pregnancy than you did prior to pregnancy, it will not be exceptionally heavy.
A mucus plug on the other hand will be much thicker and heavier than standard discharge. Oftentimes it comes out in a “blob”, which can be up to 2 inches in length. Its texture is often described as stringy or “gooey”, and it can be stretched between your fingers. While its color is similar to standard discharge, it may also have streaks of red, pink, or brown blood in it.
How early can I lose my mucus plug?
The earliest that it is safe to lose a mucus plug is at 37 weeks of pregnancy. If it is lost before then, you should speak with your doctor.
Can I lose my mucus plug slowly?
Yes. Sometimes the mucus plug does not come out all at once. Instead, it can come out in smaller pieces over several weeks. When this happens, most women do not even realize that they have lost parts of their mucus plug and instead mistake it for normal discharge. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about.
Can I get an infection after losing my mucus plug?
Losing your mucus plug after 37 weeks is completely safe and is not likely to cause infection. If you have lost your mucus plug prior to 37 weeks, this does not necessarily mean that you will get an infection. However, it could increase your risk of infection or preterm labor which is why it’s important to speak with your doctor immediately if you have lost your mucus plug prior to week 37 of pregnancy.