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Losing Your Mucus Plug: How Soon Will You Give Birth?

Essential Takeaways

  • Your mucus plug is a jelly-like seal that closes off your cervix to prevent infection. 
  • You may lose it all at once, or gradually and without notice.
  • Losing it can be an early sign of labor. (But it doesn’t mean labor is imminent unless you also have contractions or your water breaks.
  • Call your healthcare provider right away if you lose your mucus plug before the 38th week or if you notice bright-red blood or a foul smell.

Losing your mucus plug is just one more weird thing that happens to your vagina during pregnancy. And though you may not learn about tit until late in your pregnancy, it has been quietly protecting your baby for many months.  

If you’re getting close to giving birth, you might be wondering: What is a mucus plug? (Or more importantly: When will it come out—and what does that mean for labor?)  

This post will cover: 

  • Everything you need to know about the mucus plug
  • How to know when you’ve lost your mucus plug 
  • When to call your healthcare provider

What is a mucus plug? 

You’ve been tracking your pregnancycreated a birth plan, and still haven’t heard about the mucus plug? Don’t worry—you’re not alone. Many women don’t pay any attention to it until it’s time to give birth. A mucus plug is just exactly what it sounds like: a thick glob of mucus (not unlike the kind that comes out of your nose) that is secreted from your cervical glands.

Remember how you kept hearing about cervical mucus when you were trying to get pregnant? Well, not only does cervical mucus guide sperm to the egg, but it also transforms into the mucus plug.  

Here’s how the mucus plug develops

  • During implantation—when the blastocyst is implanted in the uterine wall—estrogen stimulates the production of mucus from the glands in your cervix.   
  • Your cervix will then soften, swell, and pump mucus into the cavity until there are no gaps left. 
  • Progesterone causes the mucus to thicken until the cervix seals up. 
  • The final mucus plug is about the size of a quarter with about two tablespoons of mucus.

Once the cervical canal is fully sealed by the mucus plug, bacteria is inhibited from passing through the cervix. Antibodies within the mucus will combat bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing agents. 

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What happens when you lose your mucus plug? 

Like many things related to pregnancy and giving birth, there is a wide range of experiences here. Your plug may come out in one (or several) jelly-like lumps, or it may simply appear as increased vaginal discharge over several days. And losing your mucus plug does not necessarily mean that labor is imminent, as birth could still be days or even weeks away. 

What does it look like when your mucus plug comes out?  

It resembles gelatin and is usually yellowish-white, sometimes with streaks of pink. You may also see a little beige or brown, and that is perfectly normal. It’s also normal if your mucus plug is tinged with blood. (But there shouldn’t be bright-red blood—if there is any bleeding or pain call your doctor right away.) 

It’s not uncommon for women to mistake losing the mucus plug for their water breaking, but the former is thicker. It may come out while you’re peeing or taking a shower, or you may find it on your sheets or in your underwear.  

Or you may not notice it at all—and that’s fine, too. 

When does the mucus plug fall out?  

The mucus plug thins and falls out in response to a rise in estrogen (as well as pressure from the baby’s head pushing on the cervix) as labor approaches. It tends to happen from the 38th week of pregnancy onwards, though it can happen earlier. Most commonly, it comes out around 2 to 5 days before labor begins. 

Does your mucus plug come out before or after your water breaks?  

Either one. As long as it’s the 38th week of pregnancy or later, there’s no right or wrong time. For some women, it comes out before the water breaks, and for others, it comes out afterward.    

Does everyone lose the mucus plug? 

Yes. All pregnant women will lose it at some point during labor and birth—but not all women will notice it happening. If your mucus plug comes out gradually, you simply may not recognize it as it may appear like the discharge you’re used to seeing. 

Does losing my mucus plug mean I’m about to go into labor? 

If it’s not accompanied by other signs of labor such as contractionslabor pains, or your water breaking, losing your mucus plug doesn’t necessarily mean that labor is imminent. It could mean that labor will start in several hours, but it could also mean that labor is still several weeks away. But if you have some gelatinous or pink colored discharge, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know. 

And, if your water breaks—you want to go to the hospital right away.  

Is it okay if your mucus plug comes out early? 

If it happens earlier than the 38th week of pregnancy, you should contact your doctor right away, as this could mean a risk for preterm labor. So, if you’re not yet 38 weeks pregnant, and you suspect that the vaginal discharge you’re seeing could be your mucus plug, you definitely want to get it checked out.   

What is bloody show? 

Sometimes, you’ll find red or pink streaks in your mucus plug after you’ve passed it. This is called “bloody show,” and is totally normal. Women who have never given birth before (nulliparous women) are more likely to have bloody show than women who have given birth before.  

The reason? If you’ve never given birth, your cervix is narrower in diameter, and your uterine walls are thicker. So, sometimes, blood from ruptured blood vessels can cross over to the mucus plug. For women who have already given birth before, this is less likely to be the case.  

When should I call my healthcare provider?  

Call your healthcare provider if any of the following apply to you: 

  • If your mucus plug passes earlier than two weeks before your due date 
  • If you see a large quantity of blood 
  • If you notice any offensive smell   

And remember: if your water breaks—or you start experiencing mild to moderate contractions every four to five minutes—it’s time to let your doctor know. You’ll meet your baby soon.  

Aarthi Gobinath, PhD

Aarthi Gobinath earned her PhD in neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. Her research covers the ways that stress affects the male and female brain differently.

She tackled the issue of sex bias in research by looking at why standard treatments for depression don't always work in the case of postpartum depression. Her work has been covered by Vice and Massive Science.

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