There are some parts of pregnancy that don’t get talked about much. Like lochia, the normal bleeding that occurs postpartum. Or vernix, the cheesy white substance covering a newborn’s skin. Or, of course, the mucus plug.
In this post, you’ll learn…
What is the Mucus Plug?
The mucus plug is just what it sounds like, a plug made of mucus. During pregnancy, the mucus plug develops and lodges in the cervix to block the cervical canal. Its job is to protect your uterus from unwanted bacteria and pathogens that could enter in, like from sexual activity or vaginal exams. (source)
Secretions from the cervix, and an increase in estrogen and progesterone begin to form the mucus plug early on in pregnancy, when the ovum makes it’s way to the uterus. Even though the mucus plug lasts until the end of your pregnancy, your body is constantly creating new mucus to keep it fresh.
What Does the Mucus Plug Look Like?
- Color: It can be clear, white, green, yellow, slightly pink, or brown. (Kinda like the mucus that expels from your nose and throat.) Normally though, mucus plugs are off-white with streaks of pink.
- Texture: It has a gelatinous look and is thick while in the cervix, but typically becomes thin and more liquid once expelled.
- Size: The mucus plug is about 4-5 centimeters long, or about 1 ounce in volume. If your body doesn’t expel the plug all at once, it may seem like much less.
Mucus Plug Photos
Still not sure what to expect? Several Mama Natural readers generously contributed these photos of their mucus plugs.
This mucus plug photo is from a mama who lost her mucus plug six hours before giving birth to her second child at 40 weeks 4 days pregnant.
This mucus plug photo is from a mama who lost her mucus plug at 38 weeks and 1 day. She went into early labor 12 hours later and delivered her baby girl 14 hours after that.
This mama lost her mucus plug on June 24th, early in the morning, and had her daughter on June 27th just before lunch time.
How Do You Know If You’ve Lost Your Mucus Plug?
Once the baby “drops” and settles lower into the pelvis, this starts the process of the cervix opening. When the cervix begins to “ripen” and soften in preparation for labor, the mucus plug is no longer held firmly in place and falls out. These changes in the cervix can cause capillaries to burst, creating the pink tinge of the mucus plug.
- Some women lose a large portion of their mucus plug at once. If this isn’t your first time around the block, your cervix is more elastic making it much more likely for the mucus plug to come out in one piece, with little to no blood.
- Other women lose their mucus plug gradually—even over the course of a few weeks.
The plug is commonly expelled after a trip to the powder room, or during a shower, making it difficult to observe. Because vaginal discharge is increased during pregnancy anyway, you may not even notice it at all!
What Does It Mean If Your Mucus Plug Comes Out? Is It a Sign of Labor?
Losing your mucus plug usually means that your body is preparing for labor. The mucus plug is, after all, one of the main lines of defense between your womb and the outside world. Your cervix is likely effacing, or dilating, or both to get ready for the big day. Effacement is when the cervix thins and stretches, while dilation is when it opens. (source)
How soon does labor start after you lose it?
Even though your body is showing signs of preparing for labor, don’t grab your birth bag just yet. Birth could be hours away, or it could be a few weeks away. It depends on each woman, and there is no cookie cutter answer. (source)
- If this is your first baby, then it could likely be a few days or weeks before labor begins.
- If this isn’t your first baby, then you’re more likely to be in the “give birth in a few hours” camp.
There really is no definite timeline here.
What to Do If/When You Lose Your Mucus Plug
- If you’re 37-42 weeks along and you’ve definitely lost the mucus plug and the discharge is normal in color, it simply means that baby will be arriving in the near future. It’s time to wait it out. (source)
- If the loss of the mucus plug is accompanied by contractions that increase in intensity and duration, and/or your water breaking, labor is definitely on its way and you need to contact your birth team.
Should I Call the Doctor After I lose My Mucus Plug?
If the mucus plug is accompanied by a large amount of bright red blood, about 1 Tbsp or more, that can be a cause for concern and you should contact your midwife or doctor. Because it could be a sign of complications such as placenta previa, it’s important to talk to your healthcare team right away.
Placental abruption is a rarer condition that can also cause bright red bleeding. During a placental abruption, the placenta detaches either partially or fully from the uterine wall. (source)
When Do Women Normally Lose Their Mucus Plug?
If you haven’t lost your mucus plug yet, you may be wondering when to expect it to happen. Your body typically gets rid of the plug between 37 and 42 weeks of gestation. It can even happen as late as when you are pushing baby out! (Yes, this happened to me in my 3rd birth.) Some women can lose it earlier in the pregnancy—the body will create more mucus to protect your baby.
As your body begins to prepare for delivery the cervix softens, or becomes thinner and wider, and you will naturally shed the mucus plug. Some women in late pregnancy may also lose their mucus plug—or a portion of their mucus plug—after intercourse or an internal exam.
Here’s an animation of what happens when you lose the mucus plug right before birth
What Happens If I Lose the Plug Early?
Even though it’s an early sign of labor, the mucus plug can regenerate itself to some extent if it’s lost earlier than the 37 week mark. As long as contractions haven’t started and there’s not a lot of bright red blood, there’s typically nothing to worry about. (source)
However, if it’s lost before the 37 week period, be sure to let your midwife know so she can keep an eye on things. Losing it early on in pregnancy could indicate premature labor.
Is There an Infection Risk From Losing the Mucus Plug Early?
If you do happen to pass the mucus plug early on in the pregnancy, it will likely regenerate. (source) Even if it doesn’t regenerate, you still have the amniotic sac surrounding the baby, protecting them from infection and pathogens.
The amniotic sac is the last line of defense between the outside world and your baby, but the mucus plug is really the heavy hitter when it comes to destroying incoming pathogens. If you’ve lost your mucus plug early, healthcare providers may recommend you refrain from sexual activity. They’ll also advise you not to swim in a city pool, lake, or anywhere else that may carry a risk of infection.
Is the Mucus Plug the Same Thing as the Bloody Show?
While the mucus plug can be slightly pink or even have streaks of blood in it, it is not necessarily the same thing as bloody show. (source)
- Bloody show: The term bloody show is used when there is blood passing out of the vagina and it’s mixed with a little mucus. It is a stringy mucus, and can occur after a vaginal exam and usually during labor as a sign of progress. (source)
- Mucus plug: The mucus plug is a thick gelatinous plug of mucus that is sometimes—but not always—tinged with blood. (source)
So to review, the mucus plug:
- Can be many different colors, but typically a gelatinous off white with or without pink streaking
- Is ok to lose early, as long as your birth team knows
- Isn’t cause for worry, unless there’s over 1 Tbsp of blood when you lose it
- May or may not jumpstart labor
- Is not (necessarily) the same as bloody show
My Experience With the Mucus Plug
In my first pregnancy, I lost my mucus plug and didn’t know what it was. For me, it was very liquidy and mostly clear. I woke up and felt like I peed in my pants. I assumed my water broke, so I went into the midwives office, where she tested the pH and told me it was my mucus plug. My labor began 12 hours later. (BTW, I never saw the bloody show.)
With my second birth, I never saw a mucus plug or bloody show.
With my third birth, the mucus plug shot out while I was pushing! Yes, the first time I pushed, I pushed that thing out. It looked like the popular kids’ “slime.” It was an opaque color with hints of pink and red. Right before that, I saw the bloody show and my water broke.
Other Natural Mamas’ Experience With the Mucus Plug
I asked the moms on my Facebook page to share when they lost their mucus plug and whether labor started shortly after. Here are some of their responses.
- I lost my plug with each pregnancy as I was having mild cramping before labor/birth. Only hours before. Looks like a pink and clear swirl ball of snot about the size of your palm. — Jennora W.
- Both my kids were born at 37 weeks. Never saw it with my first, but with my second I shed my mucus plug for a course of 10 days. I was having mild contractions and looked like large amounts of semen with a tinge of blood, varying in size. So gross, but so natural. — Brooke V.
- With my first, I lost it a little at a time starting a few days before labor. With my second, I lost it halfway through labor. — Tara K.
- I lost mine about an hour and a half into labor. It reminded me of seaweed, only red. — Kristy Y.
- I don’t remember seeing mine at all. I got to the hospital at 6cm and still hadn’t seen anything. Could have came out after, but I don’t know how I could still have a mucus plug at 6cm! — Hannah M.
- Despite having five kids, I’ve never seen a mucus plug. — Liz W.
- I don’t think mine came out until I was already quite far along in labor at the birth center and was in the tub there. It came out in the tub, so I didn’t really see it much! — Patty D.
- Not until I was hours into labor, and I told my midwife it looked like a small jellyfish—like the ones you see washed up at low tide. — Jillian K.
- The only time I noticed losing a mucus plug was with my third child. I noticed it when my water broke, contractions started about 3 hours later. — Gloria H.
- I lost my mucus plug roughly 12 hours before active labor started with both kids. — Stephanie J.
- Mine fell out a week and a half before my daughters were born. It started prodromal labor though. — Meredith
How About You?
How did you lose your mucus plug during pregnancy? Did you even know you had a mucus plug?! Let us know in the comments below!