Mucus plug: What is it and what does it mean?

mucus plug pregnancy

by Anna Sky Magliola |
Published on

If you're pregnant, no doubt you will have come across a lot of new words or phrases. You'll find words such as nub theory, linea nigra and pelvic floor in your everyday conversations. So, it's very likely that you will have heard of mucus plug, or show, and be wondering all about it.

What exactly is a mucus plug, what colour is it and what happens when you lose it? We spoke to Rachel FitzD. A specialist midwife for more than 30 years, Rachel now works as an author and parenting expert.

What is the mucus plug?

The mucus plug is a sticky slippery substance, made by the cells of your cervix. Rachel explained there are two reasons for it. "Because it is sticky, it can stop infectious bugs from going up into the womb," she says. "Plus, because it is slippery, it can help lubricate the vagina during labour and birth."

When does the mucus plug come away and what does it mean?

There are plenty of myths surrounding pregnancy show, but it may come out differently for each woman.

"Normally, the cervix is firm and unable to stretch open," says Rachel. "It is like a closed door. As pregnancy nears the end, hormones cause the cervix to soften and become stretchy in preparation for labour and birth.

"This softening process can start some weeks before even the very earliest stage of labour and then, as soon as the cervix is softer, it can let go of the mucus.

"Sometimes the mucus stays stuck up inside the top of the vagina and sometimes it comes out and we can see it."

Does losing the mucus plug mean I'm going into labour?

Rachel says it's important to remember that although people might tell you that seeing the mucus plug means that labour is starting, this isn't true.

"The mucus can start coming away as soon as the cervix begins softening, which means that you might get a mucusy discharge up to some weeks before the first contractions," she explained.

"At the opposite end of the scale, if the mucus stays stuck up inside the vagina, you might not see it at all until your baby is coming out. Because the mucus is made by the cells of the cervix, as it comes away, more is made. Sometimes the mucus gets dislodged and comes away following sex or a vaginal examination."

What does the mucus plug look like and what colour is it?

Once again, this varies from woman to woman, with different appearances for different mums. It could be a brown discharge, or contain blood, hence its nickname the bloody show.

"The term 'plug' is very misleading - it makes it sound solid, like a cork," says Rachel. "In truth, while the mucus can sometimes be quite thick, opaque and sticky, more often it is like raw egg-white.

"It is very slimy and difficult to clean away with tissue. As the cervix softens more and more, it starts to pull up a little and this can cause a little blood to be lost (this is quite normal) and so the mucus is then mixed with that. So anything from an opaque, thick, sticky vaginal loss through to a slippery, clear slimy mucus streaked with blood is quite normal."

Rachel also reminds us that it's also normal not to lose the mucus plug. This doesn't mean your labour won't start, "The range of normal is very large," she explains.

What should you do when you lose it?

Don't panic! Just because you've lost the mucus plug doesn't mean your baby is on the way.

"If the mucus is just as described above and you have no other symptoms, then simply protect your pants and don't worry," reassures Rachel.

"Telling family and friends that you have lost your mucus plug simply puts every one needlessly on high alert, when it might still be some weeks before baby makes an appearance and you can do without the frequent calls and other people’s anxiety."

However, she adds, "There are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for the baby's arrival. It is sensible to start getting extra rest and some early nights so that, as soon as labour does start you are not exhausted.

"If you are dripping blood or the blood loss is not mixed in with mucus, if you are worried that your baby is behaving differently from usual, you are unwell, or have other new symptoms that you don't understand, call your midwife or the hospital where you plan to birth your baby.

"A midwife will be able to check you and your baby and offer advice and reassurance."

There are no specific ways to speed up your labour once you've had a show. However, there are several natural ways which might help to bring on labour, such as using a birthing ball.

What should you do if you lose it earlier in pregnancy?

It is possible to lose mucus from the cervix following an examination or sex. However, if it's earlier in pregnancy, before 37 weeks, you should let your midwife know.

"If you have no other symptoms to indicate labour is about to start, then your midwife will be able to advise and reassure you that all is well," Rachel says. "Only a trained professional can judge whether or not this early loss of mucus is okay or not, so do not rely on well-meaning friends, family or a Facebook group!"

Is the mucus plug the same as a bloody show?

There are many ways of describing the mucus plug, but it is indeed the same as a bloody show.

"The mucus plug is usually called 'a show' and is often described as 'a bloody show' because the mucus frequently contains streaks of blood," says Rachel. "There is no difference between a mucus plug, a show and a bloody show. Different name, same thing."

Rachel FitzD has worked as a midwife for more than 30 years. She is now an author who presents regularly as a baby and parenting expert for The Baby Show.

Rachel released her first book Your Baby Skin to Skin: Learn to Trust yourBaby's Instincts in the first year in 2017. (£9.55, White Ladder Press) She has now finished her second book, which is aimed at midwives and doulas. Stretched to The Limit is due for release in 2024, published by Hachette.

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