What does it mean to lose the mucus plug?

Helpful information to help you know what to expect

As you approach the day of your baby’s birth, there are a lot of moving parts, so to speak, each with their own purpose and each gearing up to fully prepare you for what is about to come. The parts also work together to alert you to ready yourself mentally and physically. One of these mechanisms is the passing of the mucus plug. Because it is an important but sometimes misunderstood sign of early labor, let’s take a look at the role the mucus plug plays, what it is, and what it means for your big day.

What is the mucus plug?

In short, the mucus plug is a natural cork that seals your cervix. Working with the amniotic sack, it protects your baby from infection. As your cervix changes in the final days of your pregnancy, the mucus plug is “passed” or “lost” and will be released from your body. After 37 weeks it is a sign that labor is imminent, as it falls out due to the cervix widening and softening, and thus not holding onto it any longer.

An “average” mucus plug is thick enough so that many will feel its passing and has an off white or light yellow color, sometimes with streaks of blood. However, there are significant variations to a woman’s experience as it is released from the body, which we will look at below.

What happens when I pass my mucus plug?

While the mucus plug will always pass before you go into labor, some women notice it, while others don’t. Likewise, it can come out in pieces over time or all at once. Some women even have their water break before the full passing of the mucus plug.

Whether or not this is an indication that labor is close varies widely from woman to woman. Some won’t go into labor for weeks while others will begin experiencing other signs within a few hours. Even if your due date is weeks off your baby will remain safe, as your body will continue to produce the necessary protective mucus. If you are past the 37-week mark and nothing else happens, just be patient and continue with your other planning.

What to do if you think you have lost your mucus plug:

First of all, be prepared to describe the mucus plug to your birth professional. If it occurs before 36 weeks you should notify your doctor or midwife immediately, as it could be a sign of preterm labor and they may want to conduct an exam.

If you lose your mucus plug after 37 weeks, take note of what it looked and felt like and inform your midwife or doctor at your next appointment. An exception is if the mucus plug has a color other than off white/yellow or a bad odor, in which case you should notify your birth professional as it is sometimes a sign of an infection.

As you approach your labor you may notice that there are traces of blood in some of your discharge, commonly referred to as “bloody show.” This is a separate occurrence from the passing of the mucus plug and another sign that you may begin laboring in the upcoming days. If you are concerned, however, you should call your doctor or midwife.

Preparing for labor

Remember, passing the mucus plug only means that your body is preparing for labor. While it is considered an early sign, it will only indicate that labor is happening if it is accompanied by your water breaking and the beginning of contractions. If you are laboring in a birth center or hospital, you should wait to show up until you have multiple signs that labor has begun.
Losing the mucus plug is just one of several signs that your body is in the final days of pregnancy. Other signs include:

  • Change in the position of the baby or the baby “dropping”
  • More cervical mucus and discharge
  • ”Bloody show” as mentioned above
  • Sudden bursts of energy or “nesting” impulses
  • Braxton Hicks contractions

The above symptoms are also signs that labor is on its way, but has not begun. It will be time to call your doctor after your water breaks and/or labor contractions occur.

While losing the mucus plug may not be one of the more glamorous aspects of your pregnancy, it is a necessary part of the excitement. With a little bit of humor and knowledge about what is happening, you may even enjoy it a little. Read up on continuing to plan for your baby’s birth and enjoy these last days of your little one’s growth.