A mucus plug is a formation of mucus in the cervical canal meant to protect the cervix from bacteria and infection. As labor approaches, you will lose your mucus plug. This may happen several hours or several weeks before you go into labor.
If you think you’ve lost your mucus plug, should you be packing for the hospital, or preparing to wait for days or weeks longer? The answer depends. While losing your mucus plug can be a symptom that labor is coming, it’s not the only one. It’s also not the most significant symptom, such as contractions or your water breaking.
Still, it’s important to recognize when you’ve lost your mucus plug and to understand the symptoms and signs of labor. Here’s a look at when you should call your doctor or head to the hospital.
Your 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 protected. This fluid eventually accumulates and seals the cervical canal, creating a thick plug of mucus. The mucus plug acts as a barrier and can keep unwanted bacteria and other sources of infection from traveling into your uterus.
Losing a mucus plug during pregnancy can be 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.
You might experience several symptoms that labor is impending. Losing a mucus plug is one of them. But you could lose your mucus plug, and still carry your baby for several more weeks.
If you lose your mucus plus and experience the following symptoms of labor, you may be closer to delivering your baby.
Symptoms and signs of labor include the following.
Lightening occurs when your baby starts to drop lower into your pelvis. This effect makes it easier for you to breathe, but does cause your baby to press on your bladder more. Lightening does indicate that your baby is getting into a position that will support labor.
The symptoms you’ve lost your mucus plug are listed below. Some women may not even notice if they have or haven’t passed their mucus plug.
Also known as your “water breaking,” this occurs when the amniotic sac surrounding your baby tears and releases fluid. The 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. These contractions will become stronger, longer-lasting, and more frequent as the cervix dilates and softens in preparation for childbirth.
Cervical thinning (effacement)
The cervix must become thinner and stretched to allow your baby to pass through the birth canal. As your due date nears, your doctor will likely conduct a cervical check to estimate how effaced your cervix is.
Effacement and dilation are two major signs that labor is impending. Dilation is a measurement of how open your cervix is. Typically, a cervix that is 10 centimeters dilated means you are ready to give birth. It’s possible to be a few centimeters dilated for several weeks before labor occurs, though.
Strong, regular contractions
Contractions are your body’s way of thinning and dilating the cervix, which can progress your baby forward. If you think you may be experiencing contractions, time how far apart they are and if they are at a consistent time apart. Strong, regular contractions may mean it’s time to head to the hospital
As you can see, losing your mucus plug isn’t the only labor symptom. While losing your mucus plug usually doesn’t require treatment, you should go to the hospital once your water breaks or you begin experiencing regular contractions. These two symptoms usually indicate that labor is imminent.
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.
Your next steps depend on what your mucus plug looks like, and on how far along you are in your pregnancy. If you’re able to see your mucus plug or what you suppose may be your mucus plug, think about how to describe it to your doctor in terms of size, color, and overall appearance. These descriptors can help your doctor direct you on what to do next.
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. They may want to examine your baby and/or your cervix.
After 37 weeks pregnant
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. If you do not have any additional concerning symptoms, you can call your doctor, or report the event at your next appointment. If you are ever unsure about whether or not to call your doctor when pregnant – ALWAYS make the call. Your doctor or healthcare provider wants you and your baby to stay healthy and safe. 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.
You should 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.
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 if you have any questions or concerns. You should also call your doctor right away if you’re noticing symptoms of labor after losing your mucus plug.