A mucus plug is very thick, snot-like mucus lodged in the cervix that acts as a physical and antibacterial barrier between baby and the outside world.
In this post we discuss everything one needs to know about the plug of mucus. I hope you have a strong stomach, as I’ve included photos. Scroll down at your own risk. 😉
Let’s get started!
Mucus Plug 101: Who? What? Where? When? Why? (With Photos)
Where Does the Mucus Plug Come From?
The mucus plug does not come from the vagina, or inside the uterus, but from the cervix. For the majority of pregnancy, the mucus plug stays in one place – the cervix – until just before and/or during birth.
The cervix is the opening to the uterus, which is the amazing muscle baby grows inside during pregnancy.
The coolest thing about this plug of mucus is that not only acts as a physical barrier, protecting the unborn baby from the outside elements, but it also has antibacterial properties that actually kill harmful bacteria in the vagina (source, source) further protecting baby.
How cool is that?
When Should the Mucus Plug Come Out?
Whether you see it happen or not, the plug comes out at some point before a baby is born.
- Some women experience the loss of the mucus plug as a symptom of preterm labor (before 37 weeks).
- Some women lose theirs a week or two before labor begins.
- And some mucus plugs come out days/hours before labor or even as labor unfolds.
The most common place a woman will see her plug is when she uses the bathroom. If you’re close to your due date, don’t be surprised to find a glob of thick mucus on the toilet paper after you wipe! The mucus plug can also drop in the toilet bowl while you’re going to the bathroom, so if you’re curious don’t forget to look there too.
Many women, however, don’t even notice their mucus plug. This may be because she didn’t look for it, or a more likely scenario is because the plug thinned out and became watery discharge. This discharge, called leukorrhea, is more like normal pregnancy vaginal fluid and less like a plug.
Why Does the Mucus Plug Come Out?
Towards the end of pregnancy and/or during labor, the cervix thins (effacement) and opens (dilates) which dislodges the mucus plug.
As labor progresses more and more mucus plug may come out. During labor it is most often seen while using the toilet or after a vaginal exam.
Why Does the Mucus Plug Regenerate?
As odd as it may sound, the mucus plug can regenerate and replace what was previously lost. For example, a woman may lose her mucus plug, grow a new one and give birth a few weeks later.
In my opinion, if a mucus plug is lost closer to 37 weeks and labor does not begin for another few weeks, odds are the mucus plug regenerated. Hooray for more mucus!
Also, in my opinion, the reason it regenerated is because it just wasn’t time for baby to be born and baby still needed those extra layers of protection.
If you are experiencing the loss of a mucus plug over a period of days closer to 40 weeks, you’re likely not regenerating more mucus plug, it’s just taking days for it to come out. Isn’t this fun?!
When the Mucus Plug Comes out How Long till Birth?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but losing the mucus plug does not mean that labor will start right now. Ladies, if you lose your plug, don’t get your hopes up that labor will begin TODAY. Losing the mucus plug in and of itself does not mean that labor is immenent.
All the loss of a mucus plug can tell someone is that they’re going to have a baby “soon”. However, you likely already knows this as most women losing their plug are closer to 40 weeks gestation.
Losing the mucus plug along with other signs of labor is a better indication that it’s baby time.
For example, if you go to the bathroom, wipe and see mucus plug AND begin to have contractions 5-7 minutes apart there’s a good chance that labor is imminent.
FYI: Towards the end of pregnancy, vaginal exams, stripping the membranes and sexual intercourse can dislodge the plug. After any of these activities women may experience more mucousy discharge than normal, sometimes tinged with blood and sometimes without.
What Color Is the Mucus Plug?
The mucus plug comes in a variety of colors: clear, opaque, red blood tinged, brown blood tinged and mixture of all of the above. Scroll down to see photos!
Note: If there is more blood than mucus, a blood vessel in the cervix likely broke. This is different than the bleeding from the menstrual cycle. However, err on the side of caution and contact your care provider. Any bleeding in pregnancy, labor and delivery should always be discussed with a care provider.
What Does the Mucus Plug Look Like?
Many people describe a plug of mucus like snot on a tissue from blowing the nose. To me, however, it looks more like the snot that comes from blowing the nose when one has an upper respiratory infection (minus the green color indicative of sinus infections). Just sayin’.
Below is a photo of a plug that is clear. Notice how thick in consistency the mucus is. If you are experiencing a much thinner consistency of mucus, like white discharge, there is a possibility it could be normal vaginal discharge or even semen, instead of a plug.
Here are a couple more mucus plugs that are more opaque than clear.
Below is another photo of chunk or part of a plug of mucus. Many women loose pieces or chunks of their plugs over a few days.
Are Mucus Plugs and Bloody Show the Same Thing?
I often hear the terms bloody show and mucus plugs used interchangeably. But are they actually the same thing?
Here’s the deal: Bloody show always contains mucus plug but mucus plug isn’t always bloody show.
Here’s why: As the cervix dilates and effaces before and during labor, tiny blood vessels break causing blood to mix with the mucousy discharge. If no blood vessels break as the cervix opens (highly unlikely), a woman won’t experience bloody show.
Below are photos of bloody show. Notice how the color of the show varies from light pink to brownish red. The lighter the tinge of blood the more recently the blood vessel has broken. Darker tinged bloody show indicates older blood.
Mucus Plug and Group B Strep
Losing the mucus plug with a positive result for group b strep does not alter the protocol for a woman in labor. Follow your care provider’s instructions for treatment of GBS+ during labor as indicated.
Mucus Plug Warning Signs
If you experience any of the following, contact your care provider to gather more information and discuss your options.
- Scheduled cesarean + loss of plug
- Loss of plug before 37 weeks
- Foul smelling plug of mucus, which may actually be something else like an infection or bacterial vaginosis
- Loss of the plug accompanied by vaginal bleeding
What Were Your Experiences With Mucus Plugs?
Ok ladies, let’s hear from you! Leave a comment and tell us your experience with mucus plugs. I’d love to hear your story!