Pregnancy

What Is a Mucus Plug?

What Is a Mucus Plug: What Does a Mucus Plug Look Like

What is a mucus plug?

A mucus plug is a thick mucus that seals the cervical canal. It is also known as the cervical mucus plug. The cervix produces a jelly-like substance to keep the area protected and moist during pregnancy. This substance builds up, which creates a plug of mucus. It serves as a protective barrier against bacteria and other infections from entering the womb.

The cervix begins to ripen and soften towards the end of pregnancy, usually weeks or hours before labor begins. At this time, it prepares the cervix for labor. However, losing the mucus plug and the time when labor starts usually vary. Labor may start within hours or days for some women who lose their mucus plug, while others may have to wait for weeks before going into labor. Due to the increased cervical mucus discharge during pregnancy, many pregnant women fail to notice a mucus plug. 

Functions

  • It seals the opening of the cervix
  • Protects the baby in the womb
  • Protects the baby from various infections
  • It prevents unwanted bacteria from entering the uterus

What does a mucus plug look like?

A mucus plug usually appears thicker and more jelly-like when compared to typical vaginal discharges. It may also appear clear, brown, or pink. A mucus plug may also appear slightly bloody. When the cervix begins to become thin and dilates, tiny blood vessels break, which causes the appearance of a blood-tinged mucus.

There is also a variation in the consistency of the mucus plug. Aside from being jelly-like, it can sometimes be a sticky or stringy discharge. When it gets discharged from the body, it can either come out all at once or in bits and pieces. 

What to do if the mucus plug comes out?

Some mucus plugs can be noticed on the toilet paper while some can be seen in the underwear or sanitary pads. If you are unsure whether the discharge is a mucus plug or not, then put on a sanitary pad and show the healthcare provider the discharge. If the discharge is quite heavy and you are also getting good contractions, it could mean that the cervix is dilating and things are going on well.

Healthcare providers can often tell you whether things are fine with you or not just by looking at the discharge. There is no need to perform a vaginal examination when identifying a mucus plug.

When to Call a Doctor

If you suspect that you have lost your mucus plug, there is no need to immediately contact your doctor. However, if you notice any blood discharge in your mucus plug or have a history of preterm labor, then inform your doctor to have an examination or assessment done. Moreover, inform your doctor if you notice a green discharge in your mucus plug. This could possibly be the meconium, which needs to be examined to find out the condition of the baby inside.

When does a woman lose her mucus plug?

During pregnancy, a mother's body undergoes many changes to accommodate the developing baby inside the womb. Losing the mucus plug indicates that labor has begun or may begin anytime soon.

Every woman’s body is different and every time she has a baby, her labor experience is also different. One of the signs that labor is near is losing the mucus plug. If you do not experience any contractions and already lost your mucus plug, then try to calm and relax yourself. Save your energy for more active stages of labor. 

Losing the Mucus Plug

It is difficult to predict when will pregnant women lose their mucus plug since every woman's body is different. As soon as the cervix softens and ripens, the mucus plug loosens and falls out. The cervix then begins to dilate. Thus, losing the mucus plug is the body’s way of preparing you for labor and childbirth. 

For first-time mothers and women who have already given birth, losing the mucus plug is slightly different: 

  • First-time mothers - Days or weeks after the mucus plug is expelled, labor may begin. Even after losing the mucus plug, the body still creates more mucus. Losing the mucus plug could also indicate preterm labor. It is usually combined with mild contractions, back pain, abdominal pain, and nausea. These symptoms last for hours or days. First-time mothers often cannot tell the difference between premature labor and actual labor. Hence, it is recommended to keep the doctor updated during routine check-ups.
  • Mothers who already gave birth - Most of the time, the detachment of the mucus plug indicates that labor will start anytime soon. In such cases, it is important to rush toward the emergency room. Moreover, the appearance of the mucus plug may be different from previous pregnancies. 

When will labor begin?

Losing the mucus plug is a sign that the cervix is dilating and the body is preparing for labor. However, the duration varies. After the detachment of the mucus plug, it may take hours, days, or weeks for labor to begin.

Bloody Show

When your mucus plug has been dislodged, you may notice a bloody show. It is usually a sign of an impending labor. A bloody show normally increases in amount as labor starts and progresses. As your cervix continues to dilate, more bloody discharges can be seen due to broken capillaries. 

Medical Examination

It is definitely normal to have blood in the mucus plug. However, seek immediate medical attention if you have the following conditions:

  • A loss of more than two tablespoons of bright red blood.
  • Excessive loss of blood. Abnormal bleeding could indicate placenta previa.
  • Blood in mucus before the 36th week of pregnancy could indicate complications in the pregnancy.
  • Placental abruption (early detachment of the placenta from the lining of the uterus)

What needs to be done?

First, do not panic and try to remember the following signs:

  • Mucus Plug Loss - As long as there is no heavy bleeding along with the loss of the mucus plug, there is no need to worry. You can continue with your activities while bearing in mind that labor is near.
  • Bloody Show - If you notice a bloody show, patiently wait for labor contractions.

While waiting for labor to begin, try the following preparations:

  • Practice relaxation and breathing techniques to help you calm down and to stimulate the body to produce oxytocin, which helps labor to progress. 
  • Maintain balance even when at rest.
  • Whenever you feel hungry, eat food or some snacks. Do not keep yourself hungry.
  • Keep your body hydrated by drinking adequate amounts of water.
  • Wear maternity clothes that are loose-fitting.
  • Take enough rest and naps.
  • Shave or wax your bikini area for hygienic purposes.

Signs of Labor

Every woman experiences different signs of labor. You will not know when labor will start, but some physical changes might help you recognize the early stages of labor:

Every woman experiences different signs of labor. You will not know when labor will start, but some physical changes might help you recognize the early stages of labor:

  • Lightening - During late pregnancy, the body slowly undergoes delicate changes. The baby’s head is engaged and the baby’s position is down into the pelvis, which is termed as "lightening".
  • Dislodged mucus plug/bloody show - The mucus plug is a thick mucus that lies in the cervix. It acts as a protective plug or stopper. The mucus plug has bacteria-busting properties, which enable it to provide double protection. The cell walls of bacteria are usually disrupted by the lysozyme present in the mucus plug. During early pregnancy, the increased levels of estrogen and progesterone help form the mucus plug. Labor may start after the mucus plug has been discharged, but may also start one to two weeks later.
  • Labor contractions - You will notice labor contractions when your abdomen becomes hard. After the contractions, your womb relaxes. During contractions, you may feel a dull ache in your lower abdominal region along with pelvic pressure. Labor contractions are usually painful wave-like motions similar to strong menstrual cramps
  • Breaking of water - When the amniotic membrane ruptures, you may feel a trickle or sudden fluid leak. The fluid usually appears clear and odorless. 
  • Cervical effacement and dilation - Effacement means the shortening and thinning of your cervix while dilation means the opening and stretching of the cervix. These cervical changes are a result of your uterine contractions. 

Concerns About the Mucus Plug

  • It is normal to lose your mucus plug. Losing your mucus plug may not necessarily mean that labor has started. 
  • When you start to experience progressive, regular, and painful contractions, you are in active labor. 
  • Use a panty liner or a sanitary pad if you feel that your underwear may get stained by sticky mucus. The mucus plug on the sanitary pad can be shown to your healthcare provider to confirm whether you have passed mucus plug or not.

Normally, women may lose their mucus plug between 37 and 42 weeks of gestation. However, it might also happen right before delivery. Some may lose it during early pregnancy while some may lose it later. Even though it is expelled out early, the body creates more mucus plug to protect the baby. The body gets rid of the mucus plug once estrogen has reached its peak. Estrogen helps to thin the mucus plug so that it can be eliminated.

Key Takeaways

  • A mucus plug is a thick mucus that seals the cervical canal. It serves as a protective barrier against bacteria and other infections from entering the womb.
  • Losing the mucus plug is the body’s way of preparing you for labor and childbirth. 
  • After the detachment of the mucus plug, it may take hours, days, or weeks for labor to begin.