What Does a Mucus Plug Look Like?

If you've lost your mucus plug, labor could be on its way. Find out what a mucus plug looks like so you know what to expect. 

woman holding her baby bump
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Losing your mucus plug is one of the early signs of labor. As the name implies, a mucus plug is a big blob of mucus, and it blocks the opening of your cervix during pregnancy to protect your baby from germs. The material that makes up the jelly-like plug is continuously being made by the body to keep the cervix protected. The mucus plug doesn't get "lost," rather, when labor nears, it loosens and eventually exists out of the vagina.

"The mucus plug seals the opening of the cervix during pregnancy, similar to a cork, forming a protective barrier along with the amniotic sac," says Clara Ward, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine physician with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth/UT Physicians in Houston. "Antibodies present in the mucus neutralize bacteria, viruses, and other causes of disease." The hormone progesterone makes the mucus nice and thick, she says.

As you near the end of pregnancy and your body starts getting ready to push everything out during labor, your mucus plug is the first thing to go. "In the last days to weeks of pregnancy, the mucus plug is lost as the cervix starts to soften, shorten, and even dilate in the process of preparing the cervix for labor," says Amy VanBlaricom, M.D., medical director of operations at Ob Hospitalist Group, a nationwide OB-GYN hospitalist employer. "These preparations of the cervix essentially push out the plug of mucus that has accumulated there."

So what does a mucus plug look like, and how do you know if you've lost it? Learn more about losing your mucus plug and how to tell the difference between your mucus plug, pregnancy discharge, and bloody show.

What Does a Mucus Plug Look Like?

For some pregnant people, the mucus plug comes out all at once. "It looks like a stretchy glob, similar to what may come out of your nose," says Dr. Ward. "It can be clear, yellowish-white, beige, brown or pink, or tinged with red or brown streaks of blood."

For other people, it comes out gradually. They may only see it in the toilet or when wiping after going to the bathroom, and some don't notice it at all. "Not all women notice they have lost it, as it can blend in with the other increased secretions that lubricate the vagina in the late stages of pregnancy," says Dr. VanBlaricom, who is based in Seattle, Washington.

How Do I Know If I Lost My Mucus Plug?

The mucus plug might come out while using the bathroom, or you may notice it in your underwear. It can also be released slowly over several days, in which case, it may be less noticeable. Not every pregnant person will notice when their mucus plug comes out, and that's perfectly fine, adds board-certified nurse midwife Kristin Mallon of Integrative Obstetrics in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The timing could be a clue for when you lose your mucus plug. For example, the cervix will typically begin to prepare for labor around 37 weeks, which can include the loosening and loss of the mucus plug. For some, that might mean losing the plug when their water breaks, when labor starts, or sometimes even right after labor starts. If you see any discharge and you're not sure what it is, call your doctor or midwife.

Is It Your Mucus Plug or Discharge?

Unlike vaginal discharge, the mucus plug is thick, can be a variety of colors, and there tends to be a lot more material. Vaginal discharge is usually a shade of white or yellow and tends to be thin.

When it comes to the mucus plug, some people don't know what to look out for, says Mallon. "They could be having normal discharge during pregnancy and mistake it for an early release of the mucus plug." In addition, excess mucus could also stem from other concerns like a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). So how do you tell the difference?

For starters, the mucus plug is gooey, gelatinous, and usually yellowish-white in color (sometimes with tinges of pink or brown). Normal pregnancy discharge, on the other hand, tends to be thin, mild smelling or odorless, and clear or milky white.

Discharge from a yeast infection is usually yellow or white, thick, and chunky like cottage cheese, and bacterial vaginosis produces a fishy-smelling discharge that's most noticeable after sex. Other forms of yellow, green, or foul-smelling discharge could signal an STI. See your doctor if you suspect any type of vaginal infection, as you may need treatment to prevent the infection from impacting your baby.

Bloody Show vs. Mucus Plug: What's the Difference?

Losing the mucus plug sometimes gets confused with the unpleasantly-named "bloody show," which sounds like a horror movie but is also a totally normal early labor sign. "Bloody show refers to the passage of blood at the end of pregnancy; the cervix has many blood vessels that may bleed easily once the cervix starts to dilate," says Dr. Ward. "Bloody show can occur in conjunction with losing the mucus plug, but not always. It can sometimes mean that labor is closer, compared to if you are only seeing mucus."

Bloody show may also be more blood than mucus, explains Dr. VanBlaricom, and can even have a flow like a light period. And because bloody show can represent more advanced changes in your cervix, she recommends calling your doctor or midwife, especially if you are preterm or have other pregnancy-related complications.

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