Losing the Mucus Plug – What Does it All Mean?

Today we are here to discuss everyone’s favorite topic: mucus. I say that tongue in cheek, of course, but you may be surprised to learn exactly how often we talk about the mucus plug in our office – i.e., All.The.Time. Particularly, late in pregnancy.

Let’s begin with a brief discussion on what the mucus plug is. Rewind way back to the very beginning of pregnancy, when the fertilized egg implanted into the uterine lining, the cervical glands began to ramp up production of mucus (as you may know, cervical mucus plays a very important role at different times of the ovarian cycle, and is produced in varying quantities and qualities throughout). This mucus began to form a thick plug at the cervix to protect the growing embryo from intruding bacteria.

Throughout pregnancy, the mucus plug continuously replenishes itself with fresh mucus (if you’ve ever been pregnant, you are probably fully aware that there is never a lack of mucus). The color of the mucus plug is often creamy, but can vary from clear to beige or brownish, or even slightly pink-streaked, which are normal variations.

In the last weeks of pregnancy, when the cervix begins to soften and thin in preparation for labor, the mucus plug will start to break up. (Don’t worry, even though your mucus plug is leaving, the bag of waters at this point is strong and great at keeping bacteria away from your baby.) The popular narrative about the mucus plug in these last weeks is that you lose it in a big glob, and that it signals that labor is near. In truth, many times it releases in such small bits that people sometimes don’t even notice that they are “losing the mucus plug”, as it is hard to distinguish from the normally copious mucus discharge. And, labor could be days or weeks away.

That being said, there are times when large amounts of mucus plug are lost at once, which can sometimes be streaked with blood – this is what is often referred to as “the bloody show”, caused by the breaking of capillaries as the cervix changes. Surely, this indicates that labor is imminent, right?

When it is accompanied by bloody show, we do consider the mucus plug to be a more reliable sign that labor may be coming. But we always caution our clients that none of this is guaranteed – even with some blood-streaking, we can’t say for sure exactly when labor will start. Rest-assured, though, that this is a great sign that the cervix is changing and your body is preparing for the birth of your baby.

This is a good time to remind you that if you were to see blood-streaked mucus at any point before 37 weeks, you would want to alert your care provider, as this sign of cervical ripening could indicate impending premature labor. You would also want to call your care provider immediately if there is frank bleeding – that is, red blood that is more like period blood.

So, there you have it: a brief word about the famed mucus plug. While it’s a great sign when it starts to leave at the end of pregnancy, it’s not something we can definitively use to predict when labor will start. We’re sorry! So much of birth and the timing thereof are destined to remain a mystery.

Photo credit: http://www.canva.com