The Mystery of the Mucus Plug

A cartoon illustration of a mucus plug

It’s time to set the record straight on our little friend… the mucus plug. 

Toward the end of pregnancy, many women are excited and sometimes anxious about how and when labor will begin. We monitor our bodies closely for any changes that signal us to know that the time has come. Often, women will start to see changes in their cervical mucus—including the appearance of the mucus plug—and wonder if it means that they are in labor. 

I am here to demystify the concept of the mucus plug so that you feel better prepared about what it may or may not mean if you happen to see it. 

What is a mucus plug?

During pregnancy, your cervix secretes mucus to keep the area moist. Eventually, the mucus forms a plug that sits at the opening of your cervix to act as an extra barrier to protect the baby that is growing in your uterus. As you get closer to labor, your cervix will begin to soften and widen in preparation for delivery, causing the plug to be discharged into your vagina.

What does the mucus plug look like?

It is usually a clear, brown, or blood-tinged collection of mucus. It may come out in strings or clumps, or perhaps all at once.

How long after losing your mucus plug does it take to go into labor?

The short of it is…discharging the mucus plug doesn’t mean a whole lot. It means that you will likely have a baby at some point in the next few hours… or weeks. Seeing the mucus plug indicates that your body is getting ready for labor, but it does NOT mean you’re actually in labor.

What should I do if I see the mucus plug?

Sadly, it’s not time grab your hospital bag and race to the hospital. You probably don’t even need to contact your provider, unless you are having regular painful contractions, leakage of amniotic fluid, or a moderate amount of bleeding. 

Like I mentioned, the mucus plug can be discharged weeks before your baby is born. Your body can also regenerate some of that cervical mucus, so there is no cause for concern regarding infection.

If you see the mucus plug, you can start preparing for labor, even if it is weeks away. Eat well, hydrate, take walks, and rest as much as you can. This way, when labor does start, you are physically well-prepared. 

What if I never see a mucus plug?

If you never cross paths with your mucus plug, don’t worry! Many women never see it and that’s completely normal too. 

Waiting for signs that your life is about to change can be both exciting and stressful. My best advice is don’t overthink things, listen to your gut, and take good care of yourself. Take any extra hours or days you have to relax and settle in for the journey into parenthood! 

Learn more about midwifery care at South Shore Health.