What is a mucus plug?

Losing your mucus plug might be a sign you are about to go into labor (childbirth). When labor nears, the cervix starts to open wider, discharging the mucus into the vagina.
Losing your mucus plug might be a sign you are about to go into labor (childbirth). When labor nears, the cervix starts to open wider, discharging the mucus into the vagina.

During pregnancy, a mucus plug accumulates at the cervix (the canal between the uterus and vagina). The mucus plug is a thick jelly-like fluid that the cervix secretes to keep the area moist. The mucus plug also protects the uterus (womb) from infections.

The fluid collects with time to form a thick plug sealing the cervical canal. Losing your mucus plug might be a sign you are about to go into labor (childbirth). When labor nears, the cervix starts to open wider, discharging the mucus into the vagina.

The mucus plug might come out all at once, gradually, or you might not even notice when you lose it. The reason you may notice is that you are already experiencing an increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy.

Signs that you have lost your mucus plug

The simplest way to know if you have discharged the plug is by identifying the mucus. Your mucus plug should be either clear, pink, or slightly tinged with blood (known as the bloody show).

After your mucus plug clears out, labor follows. This means that if you start experiencing your first signs of labor, your mucus plug is about to come out or is already out.

Some of the signs of labor to look out for include:

Lightening

This occurs when the baby drops lower to get into position for birth. If you are having a child for the first time, lightening may happen around two to four weeks before delivery. If you have had another child already, lightening is most likely to happen just before labor.

Dilation (Stretching)

Your cervix dilates, opening up to get ready for giving birth. This may start some weeks before labor. Your doctor will do a pelvic exam to measure how much your cervix is dilated.

An increased urge to urinate

This happens when your baby drops, putting pressure on your bladder and resulting in the feeling to urinate often.

Thinning of the cervix (effacement)

This happens some weeks before labor to make it easy for dilation. Your doctor can detect this sign when after doing a pelvic exam. The rate at which your cervix will thin and dilate may depend on whether you are a first-time mother or not.

For an experienced mother, thinning and dilation take place slowly, taking weeks. If you are a first-time mother, effacement and dilation does not take place until active labor begins.

Lower back pain

As the time for labor approaches, you may start experiencing a dull pain in your lower back. The pain comes and goes on its own or during contractions.

Membrane rupture (water breaking)

This happens when the amniotic sac ruptures, releasing fluid which may come out in a rush or slowly in a watery trickle.

Strong regular contractions

Contractions are similar to menstrual cramps. They may cause you to feel a stabbing pain, tightening, or pounding. These contractions may come more frequently as you approach labor.

Regular contractions may either mean your uterine muscles are tightening (Braxton Hicks Contractions) or you are in labor.

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Causes of losing your mucus plug during pregnancy

Normally, you will lose your mucus plug because of labor. Your cervix will start dilating during labor, expelling the mucus plug in preparation for birth. It is important to note that after the passing of the plug, labor might happen in hours, days, or even weeks.

You might not realize you are losing your mucus plug until you go to the bathroom and see it. When you spot your mucus plug discharging do not try to pull it out to avoid the risk of infection. You should let it come out naturally by itself.

Carefully examine the mucus in terms of color, amount, and general appearance. This information will come in handy when explaining it to your doctor.

Remember to note how far along you are in your pregnancy. You can use this information to know how close to labor you have lost your mucus plug.

When to call the doctor about your mucus plug

Knowing when to call your doctor is dependent on if you can recognize any danger signs. Monitor the color and amount of the mucus plug. If the discharge appears normal in color, there is no need to call your doctor yet.

You should call your doctor if the mucus appears in a dark red color. Another thing that should prompt you to contact your doctor immediately is if the discharge is more than one ounce (about two tablespoons). 

Such symptoms could be an indication of compilations like:

  • Placenta previa: A complication causes the placenta to attach to the uterine wall covering the cervix partially or fully. It may cause you bleeding during your pregnancy and delivery.
  • Placenta abruption: This is when the placenta breaks away from the uterus prematurely. This situation is dangerous for both you and your child.

Seek your doctor’s advice on how to proceed with the situation. Carefully explain to your doctor how the mucus looks, the amount, and overall appearance. That is the only way to help your doctor advise you accordingly.

Diagnosing a mucus plug

Make sure to note any discharge you may experience during your pregnancy, including characteristics such as the color, the consistency, and the amount. 

Your doctor may be able to use this information to diagnose if the discharge is you losing your mucus plug. They may also check your cervix for the mucus plug to confirm. 

Treatments for a mucus plug

Most of the time, losing your mucus plug requires no treatment. It is a natural part of labor. 

If you experience a complication such as placenta previa, your doctor will recommend a course of action to best treat this condition. This can include avoiding intercourse and limiting traveling. Additionally, many people with placenta previa will need to deliver their baby through a cesarean section.

If you lose your mucus plug too soon in your pregnancy, your doctor will probably recommend a few lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Relaxing and utilizing bed rest
  • Avoiding strenuous activity
  • Monitoring signs of labor in a hospital
  • Stitching your cervix to keep it closed

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Medically Reviewed on 1/22/2021
References
Alberta: “Pregnancy: Dropping (lightening).”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Labor Induction.”

American Pregnancy: “Cervical Cerclage.”

American Pregnancy Association: “Mucus Plug.”

American Pregnancy Association: “Placenta Previa.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Your Baby’s Development.”

Michigan Medicine: “Cervical Effacement and Dilatation.”

South Shore Health: "The Mystery of the Mucus Plug."

University Of Michigan: "Cervical effacement and Dilatation.”

University of Michigan: “Contractions During Pregnancy: What to Expect.”