What Is a Mucus Plug?
A mucus plug is a protective collection of mucus in the cervical canal. During pregnancy, the cervix secretes a thick, jelly-like fluid to keep the area moist and sheltered. This fluid eventually accumulates and seals the cervical canal, creating a thick plug of mucus. The mucus plug can keep unwanted bacteria and other sources of infection from traveling into your uterus.
Losing a mucus plug during pregnancy is often considered a precursor to childbirth. As the cervix begins to open wider in preparation for delivery, the mucus plug is discharged into the vagina. The time between losing the mucus plug and going into labor varies. Some women who pass a noticeable mucus plug go into labor within hours or days, while others may not go into labor for a few weeks. It’s important to recognize when you’ve lost your mucus plug and to understand the signs of labor so that you know when you should call your doctor or go to the hospital.
How to Know When You’ve Lost Your Mucus Plug
Many women experience vaginal discharge throughout pregnancy, so it can be difficult to determine when the mucus plug has been released from the cervix. However, a mucus plug can appear stringy or thick and jelly-like, unlike typical vaginal discharge. The mucus plug may also be clear, pink, or slightly bloody.
There are several reasons why you may lose your mucus plug during pregnancy. In most cases, the mucus plug is discharged because the cervix is softening. Cervical softening, or ripening, means that the cervix is starting to become thinner and wider in preparation for delivery. As a result, the mucus plug isn’t held in place as easily and may be discharged.
Some pregnant women may also lose their mucus plug after a cervical exam, which can cause the mucus plug to dislodge, or during sexual intercourse, which can cause the mucus plug to loosen and break free.
Losing your mucus plug doesn’t necessarily mean that delivery is imminent. However, it often indicates that your body and cervix are going through significant changes so that you’re better prepared for childbirth. Ultimately, your cervix will soften and dilate so your baby can pass through the cervical canal during delivery.
What to Do After Losing Your Mucus Plug
Your next steps depend on what your mucus plug looks like and on how far along you are in your pregnancy.
If you’re less than 36 weeks pregnant, call your doctor to let them know that you think you may have lost your mucus plug. If your doctor is concerned that it’s too early in your pregnancy to lose your mucus plug, they may recommend that you get an immediate evaluation so they can examine your baby and possibly your cervix.
You should also call your doctor if you start to notice an excessive amount of bright red blood in your mucus plug discharge. Heavy bleeding could indicate a pregnancy complication, such as placenta previa or placental abruption. You should also contact your doctor if your mucus plug is green or foul smelling, as this could indicate a potential infection.
If you’re more than 37 weeks pregnant and don’t have any symptoms that concern you, then losing your mucus plug shouldn’t be any cause for concern. However, you should still call your doctor if you believe you’ve lost your mucus plug. Your doctor may instruct you to keep watching for signs of labor, such as contractions that become more regular and closer together. If you keep having discharge, you may wish to wear a panty liner or pad for protection.
Signs of Labor After Losing Your Mucus Plug
Losing your mucus plug is considered one of the signs that labor is impending, but it doesn’t always mean that labor is imminent. Some women don’t go into labor for several weeks after losing their mucus plug. It’s important to recognize the other signs of labor so you know when to go to the hospital and deliver your baby.
One of the telltale signs of labor is your water breaking. When your water breaks, the amniotic sac surrounding your baby will tear and release fluid. This fluid may be released in a tremendous rush, or it may come out in a slow, watery trickle. Once your water breaks, you can expect to experience contractions if you haven’t already experienced them. These contractions will become stronger, longer, and more frequent as the cervix dilates and softens in preparation for childbirth.
While losing your mucus plug usually doesn’t require treatment, you should go to the hospital once your water breaks and you begin experiencing contractions. These two signs usually indicate that labor is imminent.
Losing a mucus plug can be a positive thing because it signifies that your pregnancy is progressing. You’ll likely lose your mucus plug during or after the 37th week of pregnancy. While losing your mucus plug usually isn’t cause for worry, it’s a good idea to call your doctor in case you have any questions or concerns. You should also call your doctor right away if you’re noticing signs of labor after losing your mucus plug.