When Do You Lose Your Mucus Plug?

Losing your mucus plug can be an early sign that labor is approaching—but when does it usually happen? And what if you lose your mucus plug early? Here’s everything you need to know. 

worried pregnant woman lying on her side
Photo: George Rudy/Shutterstock

After a person conceives, a layer of mucus begins to block their cervix (the opening of the uterus). This gooey substance protects the fetus from bacteria and infection during gestation, says Adeeti Gupta, M.D., FACOG, founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York, New York. Losing your mucus plug can be a surefire sign that labor is approaching—but when does it usually happen? And what if you lose your mucus plug early? Here's what expectant parents need to know.

When Do You Lose Your Mucus Plug?

Most people lose their mucus plug as the body starts preparing for delivery, usually in the ninth month of pregnancy, when the cervix begins to soften or dilate. But while losing the mucus plug means labor is on its way, you shouldn't rush out of the house just yet. "Losing the mucus plug can occur days to even weeks before labor begins and is not predictive of when that will start," says Amy VanBlaricom, M.D., medical director of operations at Ob Hospitalist Group, a nationwide OB-GYN hospitalist employer.

What Does a Mucus Plug Look Like?

Your mucus plug looks like a "gooey blob," says Dr. Gupta. It can be thick, gelatinous, and yellowish-white—similar to blowing your nose during a bad cold. Sometimes people also notice a little pink or brown coloring.

Keep in mind that not every person notices when they lose their mucus plug, because sometimes it's released gradually over several days. There's no need to examine your underwear and toilet paper as your due date approaches. And remember: Always see your doctor if you're unsure about a pregnancy symptom, since it's better to be safe than sorry!

What If I Lose My Mucus Plug Early?

Losing your mucus plug is a potential symptom of labor, but the first contractions might not come for days or weeks, says board-certified nurse midwife Kristin Mallon of Integrative Obstetrics in Jersey City, New Jersey. So if you lose your mucus plug after 37 weeks it isn't a cause for concern. In fact, many people who have previously given birth will lose their mucus plug around that time.

"Loss of the mucus plug often happens when the cervix has opened and loosened a little bit," says Mallon. "The body can regenerate the mucus, so you don't need to worry about infection if you lose it after 37 weeks. You should still report this to your doctor or midwife though." After the mucus plug is released, you should also watch out for other signs of labor. Head to the hospital if your water breaks, or if contractions are lasting at least 30 seconds and coming every three-five minutes, says Dr. Gupta.

If you lose your mucus plug before 37 weeks of pregnancy, see your doctor right away. It's likely that a cervical exam, penetrative vaginal sexual intercourse, or other natural cause triggered the mucus plug to be released early. However, you could be experiencing a pregnancy complication like preterm labor, says Dr. Gupta. Preterm labor could lead to premature delivery, which raises the risk for health problems for the newborn.

And because it happens more often than you would think on the labor and delivery unit, if you do lose your mucus plug early or have another complication and need to be seen, there is no need to bring the mucus plug in with you. Just take note of when you lost it and if you are having any other symptoms, such as bleeding, fluid leaking, or contractions and let your medical team know.

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