Losing Your Mucus Plug: What It Means and What to Do

Medically Reviewed By Meredith Wallis, MS, APRN, CNM, IBCLC
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A mucus plug is an accumulation of a jelly-like substance in the cervical canal during pregnancy. The mucus plug protects the fetus from potential infections or unhealthy bacteria. As the cervix dilates, the mucus plug releases into the vagina. Loss of the mucus plug is one of the first steps in labor. You may notice a thick vaginal discharge that appears clear, pink, or tinged with blood. Some pregnant people may see the entire mucus plug come out as one big blob, but it comes out gradually for others.

This article will discuss what it means to lose your mucus plug and what to do when it happens. It will also cover other symptoms of labor and when to contact your doctor or nurse midwife.

When do you lose your mucus plug?

Medical illustration of the mucus plug in the cervix during pregnancy
Medical Illustration by Mekhi Baldwin

Typically, as the body prepares for labor, the cervix softens and dilates. As this happens, the mucus plug expels all at once or gradually. Some people never notice it at all. Labor typically starts between week 38 and week 41 of gestation, but the mucus plug can come out from about 2 weeks to only a couple of hours before labor begins.

What does losing your mucus plug look like?

A mucus plug consists of squishy, jelly-like discharge that may be off-white, pink, or somewhat blood-tinged. It may appear stringy and long, or more like a gooey blob.

The mucus plug can look different for everyone, but it is commonly about 1–2 inches long and 1–2 tablespoons in volume. It should not have a strong odor. 

If you notice a significant amount of blood, contact your obstetrician or nurse midwife right away. This could indicate a complication that requires immediate medical attention.

Bloody show describes light bleeding that is common immediately before and during labor. It may combine with the mucus plug, but generally, the mucus plug comes out before labor starts. Bloody show happens after a person is in labor. If you have bloody show, you may notice some blood mixed with a little mucus in your underwear or on the bath tissue when you wipe.

How can you tell a mucus plug from vaginal discharge?

Since you may experience discharge throughout pregnancy, it can be challenging to identify the difference between the mucus plug and regular discharge.

Both mucus plug loss and vaginal discharge tend to occur more frequently during late pregnancy. Consistency and color are the most significant differentiators.

A mucus plug is typically stringy, looks like jelly, and may have some small amounts of blood. Trace amounts of blood are common. As the cervix softens and thins to prepare for birth, blood vessels may rupture, resulting in small amounts of blood in the plug.

The mucus plug may come out all at once or so slowly that you do not notice it.

Vaginal discharge can vary in color. It could be clear, brown, or white. It may occur at any point during pregnancy and is typically not cause for concern.

Contact your obstetrician or nurse midwife if you have concerns about any type of vaginal discharge during pregnancy.

What should you do if your mucus plug comes out?

Pregnant person holding bare belly late in pregnancy
Ibai Acevedo/Stocksy United

When your mucus plug comes out, your body readies for labor. However, it does not necessarily mean that you go into labor immediately — it could be hours, days, or even a couple more weeks.

When to call your doctor or midwife

If losing your mucus plug happens with other symptoms — such as contractions, lower back pain, cramping, or release of fluid — contact your obstetrician or nurse midwife. They can determine if you are in labor and advise you on when to go to the place where you plan to give birth.

If you have any symptoms that cause you concern or are unsure if something is common, contact your obstetrician or nurse midwife.

When to go to the hospital

If you experience symptoms of mucus plug loss earlier than week 36 of your pregnancy, get immediate medical care. This may indicate preterm labor.

Some symptoms can indicate a possible complication that requires immediate treatment. Call your medical team if you experience the following symptoms, with or without mucus plug loss:

  • heavy vaginal bleeding
  • water breakage without contractions
  • constant, intense pain even between contractions
  • less movement of the fetus

How long after losing your mucus plug does labor start?

Typically, the cervix softens and thins as the body prepares for labor. As this happens, the mucus plug comes out, either all at once or gradually. Some people may lose their mucus plug and go into labor weeks later, while others could go into labor right away.

Other frequently asked questions

These are some other questions people often ask about losing the mucus plug. The answers have been reviewed by Meredith Wallis, MS, APRN, CNM, IBCLC.

What does losing mucus plug look like?

As the mucus plug releases from the cervix, you may notice a clear or pink discharge that appears thick, sticky, or stringy. As the name suggests, it looks like mucus, though frequently with some blood mixed in. In some cases, you may see the full mucus plug come out. Other people lose it more gradually.

How many centimeters dilated are you when you lose the mucus plug?

Commonly, the mucus plug comes out before labor starts, so the cervix may not notably dilate at that point. Before the cervix dilates, it generally softens and thins first. This is a common time for the mucus plug to come out.

Once labor begins, the early stage part is called the latent phase. This can take hours or days. Once the cervix reaches 6 centimeters (cm) of dilation, most people are in “active labor” when the cervix dilates more quickly up to 10 cm or “fully dilated.” The mucus plug may come out at any point throughout this process.

Should you go to hospital if mucus plug comes out?

Losing your mucus plug is common and is not an emergency. Often, it doesn’t even mean a person is in labor yet. But if you lose your mucus plug and you experience other symptoms of labor, or if you are unsure if you are in labor, contact your obstetrician or nurse midwife.

Go directly to the hospital if you experience serious symptoms such as heavy vaginal bleeding, severe pain that continues between contractions, or less fetal movement. These may indicate a potentially serious complication that requires emergency treatment.

Summary

The mucus plug is an accumulation of mucus that forms in the cervix during pregnancy to protect the fetus from potential infections or unhealthy bacteria. When the body prepares for labor, and the cervix softens or dilates, it expels the mucus plug.

When you lose your mucus plug, you may notice a clear, pink, or slightly bloody discharge. Losing your mucus plug shows that your body is ready for labor, but it does not necessarily mean delivery is imminent.

Contact your obstetrician or nurse midwife if you show symptoms of losing your mucus plug or if you experience other symptoms of labor.

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Medical Reviewer: Meredith Wallis, MS, APRN, CNM, IBCLC
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 29
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