What is the mucus plug?
During pregnancy, your body goes to work ensuring your growing little one has a comfortable, safe place to get ready to enter the world. Part of keeping your growing baby healthy is the development of your mucus plug.
A mucus plug is exactly that—a collection of thick mucus that blocks the cervical opening from anything harmful entering. Your cervix creates this barrier by secreting a thick fluid that coats the area, ensuring nothing can pass through the cervix until labor is ready to begin. This fluid secretion is triggered by implantation of the fertilized egg into the uterine lining. The mucus plug is an elegant, natural solution to keeping your pregnancy protected from infection—it just happens to have a slightly unfortunate name.
What does the mucus plug look like?
If you’re on the lookout for the appearance of your mucus plug toward the end of your pregnancy or are concerned that you’re seeing evidence of it in your discharge, knowing what the mucus plug looks like is key.
The mucus plug may me clear, brownish, or tinged slightly pink in color, and its consistency is—you guessed it—viscous and mucus-like. When it exits the vaginal canal it may come out in clumps or stringy sections, both of which are normal.
What happens when you lose your mucus plug?
Losing your mucus plug means labor is nearing—but that may mean it’s hours, days, or weeks near, not that you will go into labor immediately or that you’re already in labor.
Toward the end of your pregnancy, your hormone levels will start to shift so the body can prepare for labor. The cervix begins to prepare for labor by thinning out, or effacing. When this happens, the plug may be pushed into the vaginal canal or loosened completely.
When you lose your mucus plug, you may experience some of the following:
- Seeing mucus—this may be in your clothes or where you’ve been sitting or lying down. However, you may not see mucus at all if you pass your mucus plug while bathing or using the bathroom.
- Slight pain or discomfort—this may include some cramping in the lower abdomen similar to menstrual cramps but not like labor or Braxton Hicks contractions.
Some women wonder if passing their mucus plug means their baby is at risk of infection. In the late stages of pregnancy, the environment in the womb has developed enough to provide the protection that was once provided by cervical mucus—baby is safe and sound and not at increased risk of infection.
What is bloody show?
While some may think bloody show and losing the mucus plug are the same thing, they’re not. Sometimes when the mucus plug is expelled from the body, it comes along with other pregnancy discharge which may include some blood. Blood isn’t always present, though. Bloody show, on the other hand, may include mucus, but is not necessarily the passing of the mucus plug. Rather, bloody show is further proof that the cervix has begun to efface and dilate, and that labor is near—nearer than when the mucus plug is lost.
How long does bloody show last?
The duration of bloody show will vary from woman to woman. In general, the bloody show will not last long. Some women experience the bloody show in bits spread out over several days, while others may get it all at once. Some pregnant women may not even notice their bloody show and can go straight into active labor.
How long after bloody show does labor start?
While release of your mucus plug followed by a bloody show is a sign of impending labor, timing varies from woman to woman. Some women may experience bloody show a few days before labor starts, while others don’t get a bloody show until they are in true labor. First time moms have a higher chance of experiencing bloody show before labor begins versus women who have had babies in the past.
What are other common kinds of pregnancy discharge?
Vaginal discharge is normal throughout the entirety of a pregnancy. Called leukorrhea, vaginal discharge during pregnancy will be clear or milky white, thin, and not have a strong smell. In fact, increased vaginal discharge is considered an early sign of pregnancy and may occur as early as two weeks after conception.
If this increased vaginal discharge has any of these qualities or is accompanied by any of the following, however, contact your doctor:
- Change in color, such as yellow, green, or gray
- Change in consistency, such as think, clumpy, or cheesy
- A strong or foul odor, which may be fishy
- Redness or swelling of the vulva
- Itchiness of the vulva
- Discomfort or burning during urination
- Discomfort or pain during sex
As you tour hospitals, prepare baby’s nursery, and keep your diet healthy to support your growing little one, your body is also hard at work ensuring your baby stays safe and healthy until you go into labor. Learn more about the other changes your body is undergoing in the first trimester, second trimester, and third trimester.