Losing your mucus plug is one of the many preliminary – and exciting – signs that labor may be quickly approaching. But while all women lose their plug during pregnancy, not everyone notices it. Here’s what you need to know about losing your mucus plug, and what it means for your little one’s due date.
“When a woman gets pregnant, her body will release mucus to block the cervix and protect the uterine environment from infection,” says board-certified nurse midwife Kristin Mallon of Integrative Obstetrics in Jersey City, New Jersey. The cervix (or mouth of the uterus) stays plugged with mucus to repel bacteria from the outside. It usually comes out during the ninth month of pregnancy, says Mallon.
In late pregnancy, small amounts of uterine contractions start to open up the cervix, says Adeeti Gupta, MD, FACOG, founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York, New York. “The cervix also softens due to hormonal changes, which leads to the opening of the cervix and release of the mucus plug,” she adds. The loss of the mucus plug allows your baby to pass through the cervix more easily.
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 women also notice a little pink or brown coloring. While a blood-tinged mucus plug is normal, vaginal secretions with bright-red blood like a menstrual period should be reported to your doctor immediately. Late pregnancy bleeding could indicate placental abruption, placenta previa, or another pregnancy complication.
The mucus plug might come out while using the bathroom, or you may simply notice it in your underwear. It can also be released slowly over several days. Mallon notes that not every women will notice when their mucus plug comes out, and that’s perfectly fine, too.
Most women lose their mucus plug as the body starts preparing for delivery. “The loss of the mucus plug, especially when there’s a little bit of blood, is usually a good indicator that labor is coming within 1-3 days,” says Mallon. “But sometimes labor will come weeks after losing the mucus plug, so this guideline isn’t 100% accurate.” In other words, losing the mucus plug signals that labor is coming soon, but you can’t be sure exactly when the first contraction will hit.
After losing their mucus plug, women may be tempted to grab their hospital bag and run out the door. But Mallon advises against this. “A woman doesn’t need to call her doctor in the middle of the night if her plug is removed, but she should report it the next day or at her next appointment,” says Mallon.
Dr. Gupta adds that a woman should closely monitor her baby’s movements after losing her plug. “If contractions start, time them,” she says. “When they become regular – lasting at least 30 seconds and coming every three-five minutes – then you can go to the hospital.” You should also head to the hospital if your amniotic sac ruptures, which is also known as your water breaking.
One exception to these guidelines: Women should visit their doctor ASAP if they lose the mucus plug before 37 weeks of pregnancy. This isn’t necessarily cause for concern, especially if you’re dealing with a subsequent pregnancy, but you should still have your doctor rule out complications like preterm labor.
While these events are related, losing your mucus plug isn’t the same as a bloody show. The latter happens during effacement and dilation when blood vessels in your cervix rupture. The blood mixes with mucus to create a “bloody show,” which is a surefire sign that delivery is around the corner.