Passing Mucus Plug: Sign of Labor

The mucus plug is one of the body’s many defence mechanisms against bacteria. A naturally occurring phenomenon, the mucus plug protects the baby from bacterial infection while in the womb. While knowing the great importance of the mucus plug, you might wonder when in the pregnancy the mucus plug comes out, what the mucus plug looks like and how long after passing the mucus plug will the labor start. Read to find out the answer to all these questions.

What Is the Mucus Plug?

During pregnancy, a small amount of thick cervical mucus collects inside the cervix and seals the cervical canal. This column of mucus forms a stopper or a ‘plug’ which blocks off the entry of bacteria trying to find its way into the uterus. Along with being a barrier between unwanted bacteria and the uterus, the mucus plug also deposits several antimicrobial agents into the uterus for further protection. Most of these agents are immunoglobins and other substances often found in nasal mucus.

Once the pregnancy reaches an end and a woman goes into labour, her cervix starts to open slowly and the cervical mucus may either begin to leak out slowly or slip out as one mass. Once labour begins, the mucus plug automatically passes through the mother’s vagina in swift and painless motion.

What Does the Mucus Plug Look Like?

True to its name, the mucus plug looks very much like a clump of jelly-like old mucus banded together. It is often described as vile in appearance, akin to ‘a glob of semen’, and ‘a thick long slug’. Because it is essentially similar to nasal mucus, the mucus plug is also considered very similar to snot in its exterior.

It can be either thick and soft, or long and thin. The thickness and consistency of the mucus usually determine how long it will take to expel from the vagina. Thicker mucus usually slips out in one large clump while sticky and stringy mucus is dispelled over a period of days.

Though usually clear, the mucus plug may often be tinged with red or brownish-red blood. The occasional appearance of blood in the mucus has led to the mucus plug being colloquially known as the ‘bloody show’. It may not be the prettiest sight, but the amount of blood in the mucus plug can often be an indicator of complications during labour. Women in labour are advised to monitor the color of their discharge to look for any sudden spurts of fresh blood. Click here for pictures of mucus plug. 

Here is a video for further information:

When Does the Mucus Plug Come Out?

It is hard to predict when a woman will begin to lose her mucus plug, since everybody is different and every woman’s labour experience is unique. As the cervix begins to dilate in the time leading up to labour, the mucus plug begins to leak out either slowly or all at once.

For some women, this process may begin in the days leading up to labour. For others, the mucus plug may be expelled from the vagina in one sticky lump right before the amniotic sac ruptures and their water breaks. However it happens, the passing of mucus through the vagina is an indication of the body getting ready to go into labour.

Important Notes to Remember

It is important to remember that while losing the mucus plug is an indication of labour, it does not mean that labour is about to begin right away. For women giving birth for the first time, the mucus plug is usually expelled days before labour begins and may often be a sign of early labour.

Generally, it is never reason to worry regardless of whether the mucus plug is released early or late. It is advised though, that women who see bloody mucus in their discharge before their 36 week of pregnancy seek immediate medical attention as it may be an indication of other complications.

How Long After Passing Mucus Plug Does Labor Begin?

As we have established, the passing of the mucus plug indicates the beginning of labour but not necessarily immediate labour. If the mucus plug is expelled over a period of days leading up to labour, women are usually advised to wait for other indications as well.

The bloody show is often a sign of early labour – especially amongst women expecting their first baby, and may be followed by other symptoms. Tummy aches, mild contractions, nausea and cramps may often last for hours in the days leading up to full-blown labour.

What You Can Do to Prepare for Labor

Therefore, if mucus or bloody mucus is observed in discharge but the amniotic sac has not ruptured, a woman is advised to withhold seeking medical attention right away. The best way to deal with this period of waiting is to employ breathing and relaxation techniques used during labour. By staying calm, a woman’s body produces the hormone Oxytocin which keeps her steady in the time before labour.

Staying well rested and taking care of health and hygiene can also help the body ease into labour and allow a woman to prepare herself for when labour officially begins.

Should You Call the Doctor?

  • Mucus plug released days before due time. It’s important to keep the doctor informed at all stages of pregnancy. So if the mucus plug is released days before labour, it is not necessary to call the doctor right away. Instead, it is advised to spend some time observing other symptoms.
  • Bloody mucus plug. If blood streaked mucus appears, it is best to inform the doctor or a midwife during routine appointments in the final weeks so that they may ensure that there are no complications. The sudden or consistent appearance of blood in mucus and discharge may often be a sign of placenta previa or placential abruption.
  • Mucus plug accompanied with frequent contractions. If, however, frequent and regular contractions begin soon after the bloody show, it’s time to contact the doctor and begin preparing for full blown labour. Regular contractions are usually the best indication that the body is going into labour. Many women are prone to preterm labour and they have established protocol for dealing with it.

For first time mothers, it is always a good idea to call the doctor anyway because there is no way for differentiating between actual labour and preterm labour. Either way, losing the mucus plug and then experiencing contractions soon after means the doctor should be informed.