What is the Mucus Plug?
Just as the nose secretes mucus to protect itself from impurities, so does the cervix. And during pregnancy, "[a] plug is formed in the cervical canal and provides protection against bacteria entering the uterus," says Andrea Brett, a registered midwife and clinical instructor in the Midwifery Department at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Perhaps because of an assumption that every woman knows what a mucus plug is, not all doctors or midwives explain to their patients the definition of the mucus plug and the role it plays in pregnancy.
What Does It Look Like?
The descriptions of what a mucus plug looks like are numerous—clear and abundant or a small amount with streaks of blood are two possible ways it may look. It can be hard for a first-time mom to discern if she has lost hers or not if she is not sure what to look for.
The plug can be "clear, yellowish/green, pinkish, brown, or a blend of any of these colors," Brett says. "It is often streaked with blood. It can come out as one solid gooey mass and look gelatinous or can come out in bits and pieces as it dislodges slowly." Basically, the look of the mucus plug varies from woman to woman and even pregnancy to pregnancy.
What Does Losing It Mean?
Whether you lose your mucus plug all at once or slowly over time, it signals the same thing: Your body is preparing for the onset of labor. But don't get discouraged if you haven't lost yours yet and you are close to your due date (or even overdue), some woman do not notice or pass theirs until labor begins.
"When you lose your mucus plug it means the cervix is ripening (softening, dilating, thinning) to some degree to allow it to pass," Brett says. "Having sex or a vaginal exam can dislodge your mucus plug or cause you to see some bloody discharge."And just remember, labor could still be hours, days or even weeks away even after you pass your mucus plug.
Mucus Plug Concerns
"If the plug dislodges prior to 37 weeks then you should let your healthcare provider know," Brett says. "Losing the plug alone, prior to 37 weeks, without contractions or other signs of labor is not necessarily cause for alarm. However, your caregiver should be informed to review signs of preterm labor with you."
Losing your mucus plug is an indicator that the birth of your baby is approaching. Take the time to relax and don't be afraid to ask questions. Your healthcare provider can be a source of support and reassurance in addition to delivering your baby.