Mucous Plugs: What It Is and What You Need to Know
Every woman’s labor and delivery process is unique, and although not everyone will lose her mucous plug, a majority of women do and it can be a sign of impending labor! Here are all the details you need to know about mucous plugs.
First of all, what is a mucous plug?
During the majority of pregnancy, your cervix should remain closed, or not dilated. But even when it is closed, there is a small opening through the cervix. The mucous plug is a buildup of mucous in the cervical canal. This build-up of mucous is one mechanism your body uses to protect your baby from the outside world. When the mucous plug falls out, this is a sign that your cervix is starting to soften and/or dilate. It doesn’t mean you will go into labor immediately. But it is a good sign that your body is preparing for birth.
What does it look like?
Its appearance can vary from a thick and hard glob of mucous to a more slimy and sticky glob. Sometimes it may have blood streaks in it as well. Blood streaks are okay, especially if you have recently had sex or had your cervix checked. But bleeding like a period is always something you should alert your provider of.
I’m having a lot of “mucous discharge.” Is that my mucous plug?
Throughout pregnancy, and especially as the end nears, most women notice a sharp increase in the amount of vaginal discharge they have. This is very normal. As long as you aren’t having other symptoms such as itching or an odor, it usually isn’t anything to worry about. Never hesitate to ask your provider about your discharge at visits either. Sometimes it could even be a bacterial or yeast infection causing your symptoms which can be treated.
When will I go into labor?
Don’t rush to the hospital yet! Although losing your mucous plug is a good sign that your body is preparing for labor, it doesn’t mean you are in labor. Some women do begin having contractions soon after – hours or days later. Yet sometimes it can still be weeks before you actually go into labor. Make sure to mention it to your provider at your next appointment. They will likely check your cervix to see if you are starting to dilate. If you are having regular contractions, heavy bleeding, or you think your water is broken, make sure to alert your provider.
Will it happen more than once?
It may! Your body is consistently producing more cervical and vaginal mucous, so if you didn’t go into labor, then the mucous plug can re-accumulate which means you could lose it again. Especially if you lost your mucous plug after your provider checked your cervix or stripped your membranes, it will likely happen again next time they check you.
What if I don’t lose my mucous plug?
That’s okay. Some women may not notice if it falls out while using the restroom. It can come out in pieces or all at once. Or it may happen at the same time as labor starts. Don’t worry. Even if you don’t lose it, it doesn’t have any indications as to the outcome of your labor and delivery process.
How do I know if my water is broken?
Most women are having a much-increased amount of mucous vaginal discharge by the end of pregnancy. Because of this women may feel that their underwear is wet a lot of the time so this isn’t the best judge. Typically, when your water breaks, you will feel leakage of a pure water substance, not mucous. Sometimes it is an obvious gush of fluid and even runs down your legs or onto the floor. However, sometimes it can be a subtle steady leakage of fluid.
It is also very common for women to leak urine at the end of pregnancy, thanks to your baby sitting directly on top of your bladder. It can be difficult to determine which it is. If you ever feel confused, don’t hesitate to call your provider to talk it out. If they think you need to be tested, they will let you know and likely schedule an appointment.
In summary, losing your mucous plug is a good sign that your body is preparing for labor and delivery, but it doesn’t mean it is going to happen immediately. Afterward, be on the lookout for signs of labor because it could possibly happen soon!