A pregnant woman may find herself wondering about things that have never crossed her mind before, and one of those things may be the mucus plug. Perhaps her doctor tossed out the term “mucus plug” at a prenatal appointment, and although she is curious, she is too embarrassed to ask what it is. However, taking the time to learn what a mucus plug is may help make her feel more prepared for labor.
The mucus plug is an accumulation of secretions that forms during pregnancy. It is located in the opening to the uterus throughout the pregnancy until it is expelled shortly before labor.
The mucus plug acts as a protective barrier between the outside world and the growing baby. It serves as a barrier to germs and bacteria and acts to protect the fetus from infections. Before labor, the cervix widens to expel the mucus plug through the vagina to allow the baby to be born through the birth canal.
Mucus plugs can look like a jelly-like clump of mucus, somewhat resembling the mucus from a runny nose. It also may look like stringy, sticky or clumpy discharge, especially when it comes out in pieces instead of all at once. The mucus may be blood-tinged, slightly pink or clear. The mucus plug may come out all at once in a glob, or it may come out little by little and barely be noticeable.
Losing a mucus plug can be one of the first signs of impeding labor. However, it may take hours, days or even weeks before labor actually starts. Although many women are excited to finally see their mucus plugs come out, which is often referred to as “bloody show,” this in itself is not reason to call a doctor or believe labor is imminent.
Although most women are sure they will know when they lose their mucus plug, this is not always the case. Since there is often a large increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy, losing a mucus plug is not as noticeable as many women think. This is especially the case for women who do not pay much attention to their vaginal discharge on a regular basis. In addition, some women may not lose their mucus plug until they are already feeling the pains of labor contractions, and then may be too distracted to know or care when they do lose it.
Although it is common to begin losing bits and pieces of a mucus plug during the end of the third trimester, some circumstances warrant a phone call to a doctor or midwife. Pregnant women who are not yet 36 weeks pregnant should call a doctor if they see any blood-tinged mucus or if they have any vaginal bleeding after the first trimester of their pregnancy.