Losing the Mucus Plug: What to Do Next
27 August 2021
23 December 2019
Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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Knowing when your body is ready to deliver your baby can sometimes seem like a mystery and a waiting game. While there are a number of signs that labor is coming soon, is losing your mucus plug one of them?
Read on to learn about the mucus plug and what role it plays in pregnancy and labor.
The mucus plug is a little like a cork. It seals the opening to your cervix, where the baby is growing. Along with the amniotic sac, it protects your baby from any potential bacterial or other types of infections. The mucus plug forms in the early stage of pregnancy as the cervix creates a thick fluid to protect the area.
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Losing the mucus plug is just one sign that delivery is approaching. More specifically, it means your cervix is softening in preparation for childbirth. As it softens, it also widens, and this dislodges the mucus plug from the entrance of the cervical canal, pushing it down into the vagina.
Although a lost mucus plug is a sign that labor is near, the question of just how near depends on the individual person. Some women deliver within hours of losing their mucus plug, and others deliver several weeks later. It’s important to look for other signs to determine if you’re going into labor.
How do you know you’ve lost the mucus plug?
Even though every woman loses their mucus plug at some point before delivery, it’s not always obvious. It’s not usually painful, either, although it is possible to experience some lower abdominal pain similar to cramping felt during menstruation. If you do notice the mucus plug, you’ll see that it is a sticky, gelatinous glob of mucus that’s thicker than regular vaginal discharge. Roughly the size of a quarter, it is equivalent to about 2 tablespoons of mucus.
Because most women produce more vaginal discharge during pregnancy than at other times, the mucus plug may be difficult to detect. Still, for many it looks noticeably different from typical discharge. It’s much thicker and can look stringy and jelly-like. Even though it’s often clear, it can also come in other colors. It may be cloudy or yellowish or be tinged pink or brown with blood. This just means that the cervix is becoming more effaced and dilated, causing blood vessels to rupture. If you are 37 weeks or more in your pregnancy, this is completely normal and a healthy sign of pre-labor.
Even though every woman loses their mucus plug at some point before delivery, it’s not always obvious. It’s not usually painful, either, although it is possible to experience some lower abdominal pain similar to cramping felt during menstruation.
Mostly, losing the mucus plug during pregnancy means the cervix is softening in preparation for labor. Also called cervical ripening, this means the cervix is widening and thinning out in order to push the baby through. This process pushes the mucus plug out of place.
Pregnant women typically lose the mucus plug anytime from during preterm labor, before 37 weeks, to actual labor itself. It is also possible, though less likely, to lose the mucus plug during sexual intercourse or an internal exam.
Losing the mucus plug may not happen all at once. It may come out in pieces over time or as one piece. Since it sometimes happens during a trip to the bathroom, don’t be alarmed if you see it either on your underwear or in the toilet bowl. You may also notice it coming out during a shower.
What happens after losing your mucus plug is also different for each person. The experience depends in part on when the mucus plug comes out and any other labor or pre-labor signs you may be experiencing. Loss of the mucus plug from week 37 of pregnancy on is considered a normal sign that labor is near. However, keep in mind that it may still be several weeks before labor begins.
If you lose the mucus plug without any other concerning symptoms, you can let your doctor know at your next prenatal appointment. If you have any concerns at all, don’t wait to reach out. Keep your doctor informed and let them know whenever you have a question or concern. This way, they can talk to you about other signs of potential labor and determine whether delivery is near or not.
If you lose the mucus plug and you’re earlier than 37 weeks pregnant, call your doctor and let them know. They may want to schedule you for an examination if they have any concerns. They will examine your cervix and the baby to determine how things are progressing with your pregnancy.
If you’re wondering how long after losing the mucus plug labor starts, know that there are other signs that labor is about to begin. These include:
- Baby dropping — This happens when the baby’s head drops lower into the pelvis. This usually occurs towards the end of the third trimester and is another indication that labor is getting closer. Once the baby has dropped, you may notice that you need to urinate more frequently. This is because the baby is pressing on your bladder more in this lower position.
- Effacement — This is an important part of the cervix preparing for delivery. The cervix becomes thinner, shorter, and softer. Also sometimes called “ripening” or “cervical thinning,” this is another sign that the baby is on the way.
- Water breaking — One of the most important signs to watch for is the amniotic sac breaking. The amniotic sac surrounds the baby, and when it breaks, it means that labor is happening or will be happening very soon. The fluids may come out as a gush or a trickle.
- Dilation — Dilation and effacement are measurements of your cervical opening, and both are used to gauge how close you are to delivery. How much you’re dilated indicates when your body is ready to begin pushing out the baby. Usually, once your cervix has dilated to 10 centimeters, your body is ready to begin pushing. Keep in mind that it is possible to be several centimeters dilated for several weeks before labor begins.
- Contractions — The uterus produces contractions to help move the baby downward. As delivery approaches, contractions become stronger and more intense. When they begin happening with regularity, you’ll want to time how far apart they are. As contractions become closer together and more intense, it’s time to get your bag and head to the hospital.
While it should not be ignored, losing the mucus plug is not a main sign of labor by itself. It is important to look at the timing of its loss as well as other signs of labor.
What to do after losing the mucus plug
As long as the mucus plug discharges after 37 weeks of pregnancy or later and you and your doctor have no concerns, there is nothing specific you need to do after losing the mucus plug.
Even if you lose your mucus plug several weeks before delivery, don’t worry. Your baby is still protected. The cervix continues producing mucus even after the plug discharges, so the baby is still sealed off from bacteria.
As long as you haven’t been told to avoid it, sex is also perfectly fine and can’t harm the baby.
Any time you have any questions or concerns, call your doctor. Here are some specific scenarios when you should reach out immediately.
- If you lose your mucus plug before 37 weeks, speak with your doctor. This could be a sign of a complication such as preterm labor. Because of this, it’s important to discuss all your symptoms with your doctor.
- Keep an eye out for a lot of blood, especially if there’s more blood than mucus. It could indicate other complications such as placenta previa or placental abruption.
If you’ve just lost your mucus plug, are 37 or more weeks into your pregnancy, and are not having contractions or other signs of labor, you may need to sit tight and wait a while longer. Although the baby is not arriving quite yet, losing the mucus plug lets you know that they’ll be coming soon. Regardless of when it happens, let your doctor know when you lose the mucus plug so they can determine how close you are to delivery.
History of updates
(27 August 2021)
Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
22 December 2019
Bloody Show | 8 Facts You Need To Know
Most women hope to see a sign of impending labor but are freaked out by the idea of a bloody show.
Seeing blood during pregnancy is a little frightening.
Is it actually a sign of labor? Or is this what’s known as losing your mucus plug?
Do you need to get to the hospital pronto?
Here are 8 facts you need to know about the bloody show.
#1: What is a bloody show?
You might’ve heard the term ‘bloody show’ but not actually know what it means.
It’s the term used for bloody discharge that occurs in late pregnancy. A bloody show brings you a bit closer to meeting your little one.
You might’ve heard the terms ‘bloody show’ and ‘mucus plug’ as though they’re the same thing. Although they are closely related (a few streaks of blood, mucus, and discharge, coming out of the vagina), they’re two different events.
- Losing your mucus plug can happen over time. The mucus plug can also regenerate itself, so seeing some mucus isn’t necessarily a sign that labor will begin within the next few hours. When the mucus plug dislodges it begins to come away because the cervix is softening and thinning. You might see some blood in the mucus caused by tiny broken blood vessels, which gives it a pink tinge, but there might also be no blood. This happens as your body prepares. Sometimes this happens many days before the early stages of labor start
- A bloody show happens because the cervix is dilating. A dilating cervix is one of the first measurable events that happen when labor starts. The breaking of small blood vessels can occur. A bloody show commonly happens after losing the mucus plug. But labor can begin without any bloody show.
You can read more in Mucus Plug During Pregnancy – FAQs.
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#2: What causes the bloody show?
At the end of pregnancy, your cervix is going through some big changes.
This is in preparation for your baby’s birth.
The cervix is actually part of the uterus. During most of your pregnancy, your cervix is closed and hard.
This keeps the mucus plug in place, preventing bacteria from reaching your baby.
In the last month before birth, your cervix starts to soften and thin. This process is called ripening and usually takes place without you being aware of it.
As the cervix thins and ripens, it becomes more pliable and will shorten, or efface.
These changes allow the cervix eventually to dilate or open.
When the cervix begins to dilate, small capillary blood vessels burst. This causes some vaginal bleeding, which is a completely normal sign if it happens at term. This vaginal bleeding is usually mixed with vaginal discharge: the bloody show.
#3: What does a bloody show look like?
How a bloody show looks can depend on a number of things.
Most often the color is bright red, but it can range from brown to pink.
If your mucus plug has already come out, the bloody show might look like spotting or light bleeding.
Otherwise, a bloody show can be mixed with the mucus plug and appear as blood-tinged thick mucus discharge.
#4: Bloody show during pregnancy
In your last weeks of pregnancy, you might notice some very light spotting or bleeding.
This is usually not a cause for concern but you should discuss it with your care provider, especially if you feel unwell or have cramping, or if the blood loss is significant.
Bleeding earlier than 37 weeks can indicate premature labor or early pregnancy complications. Always seek immediate medical attention from your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about bleeding during pregnancy.
#5: Is the bloody show a sign of labor?
Although losing your mucus plug is a common enough sign you might go into labor soon, it can happen in other circumstances.
If you have your cervix checked and your care provider performs a cervical exam late in pregnancy, this can irritate the cervix and cause some bleeding.
Some care providers do cervical checks as a matter of routine during prenatal appointments in the last month.
You can read more about the necessity of this in Pelvic Exam During Pregnancy – Is It Really Necessary?
You are also likely to experience a bloody show following a ‘stretch and sweep’. This is when your care provider stretches the cervix and sweeps your membranes. A membrane sweep aims to suggest to your brain you’re entering labor. A membrane sweep is very uncomfortable; it might make you lose your mucus plug and give you some period-like cramps but fail to make labor start.
Some care providers do stretch and sweeps in the last few weeks leading up to your due date, even without your consent.
You should always be informed about this procedure before it is performed, as there are some risks involved.
Find out more in Membrane Sweep – 5 Things To Know Before Having One.
Pelvic pressure from sexual intercourse can also lead to you noticing some blood-tinged discharge. Although this sounds scary, some women bleed easily after sex in the last part of the third trimester of pregnancy. It is quite common and doesn’t really mean you or your baby have any serious health conditions. If you experience bloody discharge following sexual intercourse, wipe yourself with a wet wipe or toilet paper and put on a pad or panty liner to keep an eye on the discharge. The blood you discharge from friction during sex tends to have a stringy texture. It becomes darker and should recede with time.
#6: How long after the bloody show before you go into labor?
Since bloody show happens when your cervix is starting to dilate, it means your body is preparing for labor.
If you’re close to your due date and see bloody show, it’s a positive sign labor is on its way.
Every woman’s experience of labor starting is different. There is no guarantee labor will begin in the next 24 hours. It could still be several days in the future.
Some women don’t lose their mucus plug, or see a bloody show, until they are well into active labor.
First-time mamas are more likely to see a bloody show before labor begins, but this can happen a few days beforehand.
Women who have given birth before often don’t see any bloody show until their cervix is dilating; they would expect birth in the next 24 hours.
Often care providers want to check to see whether your cervix is dilating. Unless there is a medical reason for being concerned, you can choose to not have cervical checks during labor.
Read more in Are Cervical Checks During Labour Necessary?
#7: Bloody show during labor
In the first stage of labor, contractions act on the cervix to open or dilate it. As contractions increase in frequency and intensity, the cervix dilates more.
During the transition phase, which is the final phase of active labor, you might notice an increase in the bloody show.
This is because the cervix dilates the final few centimeters in a short period of time.
This is a sign you are very close to giving birth to your baby.
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#8: What should I do if I have a bloody show?
If you’re not 37 weeks yet, and you notice vaginal bleeding – even if you’re not bleeding heavily and it’s just light spotting or blood-stained discharge – seek advice from your healthcare provider. It’s possible you’re going into labor prematurely.
If you’re close to your due date and are already past 37 weeks, then a bloody show is simply a sign your body is preparing to give birth.
Look for contractions, which you might experience as a low backache or even menstrual-like cramps. Don’t worry too much as labor will begin when your baby is ready. Focusing too much on contractions in the early stages could be a way of wasting much energy, which you’ll need when labor starts.
Many women wonder whether they should head off to the hospital immediately if they see a bloody show.
This isn’t necessary, unless there’s a more serious complication – for example, if you’re feeling unwell, you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, you can see heavy bleeding (which could mean a placental abruption) or you have any concerns at all about your baby’s wellbeing.
It could be some time before contractions become established and it’s usually recommended you stay at home when in early labor.
It’s a good sign labor is in the near future, though, so get everything prepared.
While you’re waiting, read Early Labour – 8 Tips For A Low Stress Early Labour At Home to give you a head start on cruising early labor at home.
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+ Popular Questions Our Readers Ask
Q: How do you prevent getting a very faint line on a pregnancy test kit?
A: In order for you not to get a very faint line on your pregnancy test kit, what you need to do is to take your pregnancy test after missing your period instead of before. Test first thing in the morning too, when urine is more concentrated.
Q: How do you conceive a baby boy for sure?
A: Want to conceive a baby boy for sure? Currently, there are no natural methods which are 100% guaranteed. But you can try popular methods. For example, you can adopt certain positions during intercourse to allow for deep penetration, giving male sperm an advantage. Another is to have intercourse on the day before ovulation.
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Harbingers: how labor begins — Information
Harbingers: what labor begins — Information
As you get used to all the harbingers of childbirth, there is a fearful feeling of not noticing the onset of childbirth behind them. All the conditions for the development of labor activity have already been created in the body and the balance becomes unstable, ready to be disturbed in the direction of childbirth at the very next moment.
It is possible to reliably determine that labor has already begun by observing the dynamics of the opening of the cervix by vaginal examination. This can only be done by a specialist. But the woman in labor herself is able to note the symptoms that it is time to contact such a specialist — to go to the maternity hospital or call him to the house. By what signs can you understand that childbirth has already begun?
- Mucus plug. 1-3 days or a few hours before childbirth, mucus resembling egg white may begin to be released from the genitals of a woman, it may also be brownish, similar to a monthly daub, or it will be mucous discharge, colored with slight streaks of blood. It can come out with a bang (really, as if a cork has popped out, which is associated with the strength of intrauterine pressure due, for example, to a large fetal weight — over 4.5 kg), or it can flow out gradually, in small portions. The appearance of a mucous plug indicates the beginning of the opening of the cervix. This is a definite sign of beginning labor. The abundance of secretions and the features of their appearance are individual. In quite rare cases, the secretions of the glands of the cervix are so meager that the mucous plug does not appear at all before childbirth. In this case, it may not appear during them either. In other cases, on the contrary, the maturation of the cervix is very slow, and the secretion of its glands is very intense. In this case, the mucous plug may begin to stand out 7-14 days before the onset of labor. However, in the vast majority of cases, the mucous plug appears with the onset of labor or a few hours before it begins.
- Contractions. Undoubted evidence of the onset of labor is regular contractions, i.e. periodic contractions of the uterine muscles, going with a steady rhythm. Labor pains are always accompanied by dilatation of the cervix and cannot be neutralized by relaxing procedures, such as taking a warm bath. But if a woman has had false contractions several times the day before, it can be difficult for her to orient herself in her feelings and distinguish between labor pains. If the appearance of contractions is accompanied by brown discharge from the genitals, then we can speak with full confidence about the onset of labor.
- Digestive system. On the eve of childbirth, as a rule, there is a bowel movement. A woman can repeatedly go to the toilet, and at the same time the stool comes out in a slightly larger volume than is usually the case. Immediately before the onset of childbirth, i.e. a few hours before the onset of labor pains, nausea, vomiting, complete loss of appetite, or indigestion may occur. This reaction of the digestive system is associated with the action of hormones that stimulate labor. These phenomena can occur both together and separately and accompany the appearance of the first weak contractions. In addition, the first contractions may be felt as abdominal pain, increased peristalsis, and frequent empty toilet urination.
- Pain. Sometimes childbirth begins with the appearance of vague dull pain in the lower abdomen and lower back or girdle pain (lower abdomen and lower back). They can be of a periodic nature, or they can serve as a painful background, i.e. continue without stopping.
- Chills. Quite often, all these phenomena are accompanied by a feeling of cold and chills. Labor chills may accompany the onset of labor.
- «Drop» of the abdomen. A woman may notice that her belly has moved down. «Descent» of the abdomen occurs due to the lowering and insertion of the presenting part of the fetus into the entrance of the small pelvis and the deviation of the bottom of the uterus anteriorly due to some decrease in the tone of the abdominal press. The child begins to sink deeper into the pelvic area. In primiparas, this is observed 2-4 weeks before delivery. In re-children — on the eve of childbirth.
- Breathing becomes easier. Moving the baby downward relieves pressure from the diaphragm and stomach. Breathing becomes easier. Heartburn may go away. This increases the pressure on the lower abdomen. Sitting and walking becomes a little more difficult. After the child has moved down, a woman may experience difficulty sleeping, at this time it is difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.
- Frequent urination and defecation. The urge to urinate becomes more frequent as the pressure on the bladder increases. The hormones of childbirth also affect the intestines of a woman, causing the so-called preliminary cleansing. Some women may experience mild abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Like before an exam.
- Pain in the lower back. After the baby has moved down, the woman may experience discomfort in the lumbar region. These sensations are caused not only by pressure from the child, but also by an increase in the stretching of the sacroiliac connective tissue.
- Change in fetal motor activity. The baby can calm down a little, then move very actively. He, as it were, chooses the rhythm and the most suitable moment for his birth.
- Change in appetite. Appetite may change just before childbirth. Often the appetite decreases. It is good if a woman at this time trusts her intuition more when choosing products. You shouldn’t eat for two.
- Weight loss. A woman may lose some weight before giving birth. The body weight of a pregnant woman can decrease by about 1-2 kg. So the body naturally prepares for childbirth. Before childbirth, the body must be flexible and plastic.
- An unexpected change of mood. A woman is looking forward to «her time». She can’t wait to give birth («if only sooner…»). The mood may «suddenly» change. Mood changes are largely associated with neuroendocrine processes occurring in the body of a pregnant woman before childbirth. Explosions of energy are possible. The state of fatigue and inertia can suddenly give way to violent activity. The «nest» instinct appears. A woman prepares to meet a baby: she sews, cleans, washes, tidies up. .. Just please don’t overdo it.
- Water outflow. The fetal bladder can leak, then the waters slowly flow out. It can burst suddenly, then the waters «gush in a strong stream.» From time to time this happens before the rhythmic contractions of the uterus begin. More often this occurs in multiparous. When the rupture of the fetal bladder pain is not felt. If the waters broke immediately, before the onset of rhythmic contractions, you should go to the hospital immediately!
THERE ARE CONTRAINDICATIONS. EXPERT ADVICE IS REQUIRED
5 main signs of childbirth: how to recognize them and prepare for childbirth
The first harbinger: contractions
The second harbinger: the passage of the plug
The third harbinger: weight loss
The fourth harbinger: the maturation of the cervix
The fifth harbinger: the prolapse of the abdomen
Harbingers of childbirth indicate that soon you will finally see your baby. But not all of them are so unambiguous. Some of them appear one or two months before the birth, while others signal that the birth is already beginning. Therefore, in the last weeks of pregnancy, it is important to monitor your condition and its changes every day. Then at the most important moment you will be calm and ready to meet the baby.
False (training) contractions are rhythmic contractions of the uterus. They look like real contractions, but the woman almost does not feel pain, the uterus just comes into
tone. They appear shortly before childbirth, but do not mean their beginning at all. The function of false contractions is only to prepare the uterus for the birth process, that is, to train its muscles. The cervix does not open like in real contractions.
False contractions sometimes occur as early as the 20th week. If they began towards the end of the third trimester, then they are considered harbingers of childbirth. This means that the uterus has activated and is tuned to the birth process.
Distinguishing training fights from true ones is not so difficult. The first ones are less painful, they are weak and irregular. False contractions occur at intervals of 30 minutes or more, last no more than a minute, and usually only a few seconds. Such uterine contractions pass if you lie down and relax. Even a change in body position can help. Labor contractions increase in intensity and occur at regular intervals. These gaps should gradually decrease. If the interval between contractions has reached 10 minutes, it’s time to go to the hospital.
Second harbinger: cork breaks
During pregnancy, a special secret is produced in the cervix. It forms a plug, the purpose of which is to block the entrance to the uterus. Cork protects the child from germs, infections, and other harmful effects. Before childbirth, the cervix becomes softer and shorter, and because of this, the cork sometimes partially comes out. In this case, the woman notices mucous clots on the underwear, sometimes with red streaks. These secretions may last for several days.
Cork normally has a brown or yellow color, it can also be just transparent. Red discharge may indicate early placental abruption. If you are bleeding, you should see a doctor.
Sometimes the cork comes out completely — do not worry about the large amount of discharge. This happens 2 weeks or a few days before the baby is born. The expectant mother does not experience any discomfort. For some women, the cork does not come off beforehand, and then it separates naturally only in the delivery room.
The third harbinger: weight loss
For 9 months, the expectant mother controls her weight, noting a small increase every week. But shortly before giving birth, you can find that the number on the scales has become smaller. If you suddenly lost 0.5-2 kg, it’s time to prepare for childbirth. Such a change in weight is caused by the fact that excess fluid leaves the body, swelling subsides, which appeared in the second or third trimester. These processes are associated with the hormonal background.
During pregnancy, progesterone is produced in large quantities. This hormone alters many processes in the body, including the accumulation of fluid. Before labor begins, progesterone levels drop and estrogen begins to have a greater effect. It prepares the body for childbirth and rids it of excess water. You can notice such changes not only by the numbers on the scales. For example, a ring or shoes that are tight during pregnancy become fit again.
Hormones also affect the intestines. As a result, in the later stages, stool disorder often occurs. If, in addition to diarrhea, you are not disturbed by other symptoms (nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain), then everything is in order: the body has begun preparation.
The fourth harbinger: maturation of the cervix
At the end of pregnancy, the cervix gradually prepares to dilate. If before that it was tightly closed, and its length reached 4 cm, then during preparation for childbirth, the neck changes. At first, it is smoothed out and shortened, the woman does not feel this process in any way. Only a gynecologist can check this during an examination.
Further, the opening in the neck begins to expand so that the baby’s head can pass through it. First, the doctor marks the opening by 1 cm, and the maximum diameter of the opening is 10 cm. If the birth process has moved to the active phase, the cervix will expand every hour by 1-2 cm. If this is not the first birth in a woman, the cervix opens faster. In primiparous mothers, an immature cervix occurs, that is, not ready for childbirth even for a period of 40 weeks. In this case, preparation for childbirth occurs with medical assistance.
Fifth harbinger: prolapse of the abdomen
2-3 weeks before birth, the baby changes its position in the uterus. He turns his head down, if before that he was lying in a different position. Then it descends to the bottom of the uterus — this is the low stance of the fetus. The baby bends the arms and legs, takes a position convenient for childbirth. He is already cramped in the uterus, and the movements are not so pronounced. This is not a cause for concern if the child does move from time to time.
The baby is already quite heavy and literally pulls the uterus down. As a result, it moves lower, to the pelvic area. This leads to a visually noticeable prolapse of the abdomen. The expectant mother notes not only a change in the shape of the body. After lowering the uterus, it becomes easier for a woman to breathe, because the heavy organ no longer presses on the diaphragm. But on the other hand, the bladder contracts more strongly, and you have to go to the toilet more often. And in the area of the stomach it becomes freer, so the frequent problem of pregnant women — heartburn — disappears.
The natural birth process begins and goes according to one scenario, but for each woman it differs in its own characteristics.