What Is the Mucus Plug and Is It a Sign of Labour?
As labour nears, you might notice a pink, brown or even blood-streaked vaginal discharge that looks like mucus. This may be the mucus plug, which is sometimes called a bloody show or simply a show.
Losing your mucus plug is usually a sign that labour will begin soon or has already begun.
Read on to learn more about what the mucus plug is, what it looks like, and how long after losing the mucus plug labour may start.
What Is the Mucus Plug?
During pregnancy, mucus accumulates in the cervix, forming a plug that seals the entrance of the uterus. Throughout your pregnancy, it does an important job of protecting your little one from infection. Usually the mucus plug comes out just before your baby is born, as your cervix starts to open in preparation for labour and delivery.
Even though this subject may seem unpleasant, having this kind of discharge is a normal part of a full-term pregnancy, and it's worth reading about so you feel more prepared if you see it.
What Does the Mucus Plug Look Like?
The mucus plug discharge can be thick and sticky, with a gooey, jelly-like consistency. In terms of its colour, it could be clear, or it might have a pink or brownish tint. Some mums-to-be see traces or streaks of blood in it.
What’s the Difference Between a Bloody Show and the Mucus Plug?
Mucus plug is the name for the build-up of mucus that seals the cervix, while a ‘show’ describes what happens when it comes free and leaves your body as a gooey discharge.
This discharge may be clear, but sometimes it’s tinged pink or brown with a little blood – this is what’s called a ‘bloody show’.
In practice, the names mucus plug and bloody show or just ‘show’ are often used interchangeably. Whichever term you use, your midwife or doctor will know what you mean. You could even describe what you see, to be even more accurate.
How Do You Know If You’ve Lost Your Mucus Plug?
Your mucus plug can come out in one blob or in smaller segments. You might find some discharge in your underwear, or notice it on the toilet paper after you wipe. There’s also a chance you may not see it at all.
Sometimes it can be a little tricky to tell whether what you see is the mucus plug or just typical vaginal discharge, so ask your midwife if you’re in doubt.
If you think you’ve lost your mucus plug, or if you notice any other signs of labour, such as your waters breaking or contractions, let your midwife know.
Keep in mind that seeing the mucus plug is different to when your waters break, which is where a clear fluid gushes or trickles out. If you have a little time now, watch this short video on ‘What happens when your water breaks’.
When Do You Lose Your Mucus Plug?
The mucus plug can come loose several days before labour starts, or even at the very onset of labour when contractions have already started, so if your pregnancy goes to full term the mucus plug will come out between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. In other words, when you are 9 months pregnant.
If you notice this discharge before 37 weeks of pregnancy, contact your midwife or doctor right away, because it may be a sign of premature labour.
Is Losing Your Mucus Plug an Early Sign of Labour?
The mucus plug comes loose and dislodges when the cervix starts to open (dilate), so yes: Losing the mucus plug can be a sign that you’re approaching labour, or it may even be an early sign of labour itself.
Sometime before labour starts, your cervix – the entrance to your uterus – softens and starts to get thinner. Eventually it starts to gradually open. This process is called effacement, and it’s what can lead to a show or a bloody show. Essentially, as the cervix opens, the mucus plug isn’t held in place anymore and it comes loose and comes out.
This very early stage of labour is known as the ‘latent phase’, and how long it lasts varies a lot. Active labour may start very soon after a show, or you may still have a few days or even weeks to wait.
Either way, if you think you may have lost your mucus plug tell your midwife, who’ll advise you on what to do next.
How Long After Losing the Mucus Plug Does Labour Start?
If you lose your mucus plug while also experiencing regular contractions, then labour has already begun.
Keep in mind, however, that you may also see the mucus plug several days before labour is set to begin.
Remember, contractions may come and go intermittently during the latent phase of labour, and you might be experiencing Braxton Hicks or ‘practice’ contractions. True labour contractions come at regular intervals and get progressively stronger and more frequent with time.
In any event, once your mucus plug comes loose it’s a good idea to get your hospital bag ready for when it’s time to go.
If your midwife advises you to stay at home and wait a while, it might be a good time to read through our article on comfort measures during labour – you never know which tip could help! And, for a little fun, take our quiz on labour pain relief to share your view and see what other mums think.
When to Call the Doctor
Although it’s OK for the mucus plug discharge to be streaked with blood, if you notice any fresh bleeding, like a menstrual period, contact your doctor or midwife or call the hospital straight away as this may be something else requiring medical attention. (You can read about other pregnancy warning signs not to ignore.)
To be on the safe side, it’s usually a good idea to call your midwife if you see the mucus plug, even if there are no other symptoms that you’re worried about. This way your midwife will also know that you’re likely to go into labour soon and can give you personalised advice on what to do next.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The last few weeks of pregnancy can sometimes seem like the longest as you wait for a sign that labour might be starting – and perhaps wonder if you’ll recognise it when it comes.
Don’t worry – you’ve got this! You may or may not get a little advance warning in the form of a mucus plug discharge, but there’ll be no mistaking that it’s the real thing once those contractions start coming thick and fast.
The big moment when you finally get to meet your little one is nearly here. Take this time to relax and conserve your energy so you’re ready for what’s to come.
How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below.
The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
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