The mucus plug is a little like a cork. It seals the opening to your cervix, where the baby is growing. Along with the amniotic sac, it protects your baby from any potential bacterial or other types of infections. The mucus plug forms in the early stage of pregnancy as the cervix creates a thick fluid to protect the area.
Losing the mucus plug is just one sign that delivery is approaching. More specifically, it means your cervix is softening in preparation for childbirth. As it softens, it also widens, and this dislodges the mucus plug from the entrance of the cervical canal, pushing it down into the vagina.
Although a lost mucus plug is a sign that labor is near, the question of just how near depends on the individual person. Some women deliver within hours of losing their mucus plug, and others deliver several weeks later. It’s important to look for other signs to determine if you’re going into labor.
How do you know you’ve lost the mucus plug?
Even though every woman loses their mucus plug at some point before delivery, it’s not always obvious. It’s not usually painful, either, although it is possible to experience some lower abdominal pain similar to cramping felt during menstruation. If you do notice the mucus plug, you’ll see that it is a sticky, gelatinous glob of mucus that’s thicker than regular vaginal discharge. Roughly the size of a quarter, it is equivalent to about 2 tablespoons of mucus.
Because most women produce more vaginal discharge during pregnancy than at other times, the mucus plug may be difficult to detect. Still, for many it looks noticeably different from typical discharge. It’s much thicker and can look stringy and jelly-like. Even though it’s often clear, it can also come in other colors. It may be cloudy or yellowish or be tinged pink or brown with blood. This just means that the cervix is becoming more effaced and dilated, causing blood vessels to rupture. If you are 37 weeks or more in your pregnancy, this is completely normal and a healthy sign of pre-labor.
Even though every woman loses their mucus plug at some point before delivery, it’s not always obvious. It’s not usually painful, either, although it is possible to experience some lower abdominal pain similar to cramping felt during menstruation.
Mostly, losing the mucus plug during pregnancy means the cervix is softening in preparation for labor. Also called cervical ripening, this means the cervix is widening and thinning out in order to push the baby through. This process pushes the mucus plug out of place.
Pregnant women typically lose the mucus plug anytime from during preterm labor, before 37 weeks, to actual labor itself. It is also possible, though less likely, to lose the mucus plug during sexual intercourse or an internal exam.
Losing the mucus plug may not happen all at once. It may come out in pieces over time or as one piece. Since it sometimes happens during a trip to the bathroom, don’t be alarmed if you see it either on your underwear or in the toilet bowl. You may also notice it coming out during a shower.
What happens after losing your mucus plug is also different for each person. The experience depends in part on when the mucus plug comes out and any other labor or pre-labor signs you may be experiencing. Loss of the mucus plug from week 37 of pregnancy on is considered a normal sign that labor is near. However, keep in mind that it may still be several weeks before labor begins.
If you lose the mucus plug without any other concerning symptoms, you can let your doctor know at your next prenatal appointment. If you have any concerns at all, don’t wait to reach out. Keep your doctor informed and let them know whenever you have a question or concern. This way, they can talk to you about other signs of potential labor and determine whether delivery is near or not.
If you lose the mucus plug and you’re earlier than 37 weeks pregnant, call your doctor and let them know. They may want to schedule you for an examination if they have any concerns. They will examine your cervix and the baby to determine how things are progressing with your pregnancy.
If you’re wondering how long after losing the mucus plug labor starts, know that there are other signs that labor is about to begin. These include:
- Baby dropping — This happens when the baby’s head drops lower into the pelvis. This usually occurs towards the end of the third trimester and is another indication that labor is getting closer. Once the baby has dropped, you may notice that you need to urinate more frequently. This is because the baby is pressing on your bladder more in this lower position.
- Effacement — This is an important part of the cervix preparing for delivery. The cervix becomes thinner, shorter, and softer. Also sometimes called “ripening” or “cervical thinning,” this is another sign that the baby is on the way.
- Water breaking — One of the most important signs to watch for is the amniotic sac breaking. The amniotic sac surrounds the baby, and when it breaks, it means that labor is happening or will be happening very soon. The fluids may come out as a gush or a trickle.
- Dilation — Dilation and effacement are measurements of your cervical opening, and both are used to gauge how close you are to delivery. How much you’re dilated indicates when your body is ready to begin pushing out the baby. Usually, once your cervix has dilated to 10 centimeters, your body is ready to begin pushing. Keep in mind that it is possible to be several centimeters dilated for several weeks before labor begins.
- Contractions — The uterus produces contractions to help move the baby downward. As delivery approaches, contractions become stronger and more intense. When they begin happening with regularity, you’ll want to time how far apart they are. As contractions become closer together and more intense, it’s time to get your bag and head to the hospital.
While it should not be ignored, losing the mucus plug is not a main sign of labor by itself. It is important to look at the timing of its loss as well as other signs of labor.
What to do after losing the mucus plug
As long as the mucus plug discharges after 37 weeks of pregnancy or later and you and your doctor have no concerns, there is nothing specific you need to do after losing the mucus plug.
Even if you lose your mucus plug several weeks before delivery, don’t worry. Your baby is still protected. The cervix continues producing mucus even after the plug discharges, so the baby is still sealed off from bacteria.
As long as you haven’t been told to avoid it, sex is also perfectly fine and can’t harm the baby.
Any time you have any questions or concerns, call your doctor. Here are some specific scenarios when you should reach out immediately.
- If you lose your mucus plug before 37 weeks, speak with your doctor. This could be a sign of a complication such as preterm labor. Because of this, it’s important to discuss all your symptoms with your doctor.
- Keep an eye out for a lot of blood, especially if there’s more blood than mucus. It could indicate other complications such as placenta previa or placental abruption.
If you’ve just lost your mucus plug, are 37 or more weeks into your pregnancy, and are not having contractions or other signs of labor, you may need to sit tight and wait a while longer. Although the baby is not arriving quite yet, losing the mucus plug lets you know that they’ll be coming soon. Regardless of when it happens, let your doctor know when you lose the mucus plug so they can determine how close you are to delivery.