For anyone about to have a baby, it can be quite a stressful time looking out for any warnings or signs that you are about to go into labor. One big sign that usually happens shortly before the main event is the discharging of the cervical mucus plug.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t always discharge at the same time and isn’t always a sign that labor is about to start. There are many things that can dislodge the plug and none of them will actually bring about labor.

Even for someone who is on their second or third baby, the early dislodging of the mucus plug can cause some serious concern or give you a big fright. Let’s take a closer look at what the mucus plug actually is and the reasons why it can get dislodged. It’s important to be able to identify what is happening to you throughout your pregnancy so that you can avoid stress and anxiety.

Characteristics of the cervical mucus plug

This plug is essentially like a cork that closes off the cervix when you are pregnant. It’s a protective barrier that stops bacteria and other foreign bodies from getting into the uterus while your baby is growing and developing.

It is made from a thick, white mucus that is a lot firmer than your normal discharge. Towards the end of your pregnancy, the mucus can become tinged with blood as the lining of the uterus begins to thin. This is what creates what doctors refer to as a “bloody show”.

Examples of cervical mucus plugs

When does the mucus plug come out?

The cervical mucus plug will usually discharge towards the end of your pregnancy when your hormones lower and the body prepares for the onset of labor. There is no set rule as to when exactly this will happen and how long before birth it will occur. This is why the discharging of the mucus plug is considered an early warning sign, but shouldn’t put anyone at panic stations.

IMPORTANT: There is no set length of time from when the mucus plug discharges to when labor starts. It may be weeks before your contractions start, so keep calm.

For many women, the mucus plug will come out in one go as a solid plug. Women have described feeling a distinct “plop” as it comes out. For others, the plug may break down and come out gradually as part of your normal discharge. If this is the case, you may not even realize that the plug has come out. For a small percentage of pregnancies, the plug doesn’t come out at all before childbirth. Instead, it breaks down and comes out with the placenta and amniotic fluid.

If you are unsure about whether or not your cervical mucus plug has discharged, or if you think too much fluid has come out, talk to your doctor. Usually, if the plug is not accompanied by a lot of fluid or much blood, things are still completely normal and your doctor will tell you to rest up for the main event that’s still to come.

Readers’ questions:

How do I know if I’ve lost my mucus plug?

You won’t always know if it has discharged because sometimes the plug breaks down and leaves the body slowly. If you are unsure, your gynecologist can do a physical examination to check for the mucus plug.

How do I know if it’s my mucus plug or a normal discharge?

The texture and color of the mucus plug is quite different from a normal discharge. The plug has a goblet-like appearance and may have blood in it. If it starts to break down and doesn’t come out in one go, your discharge will likely look a lot thicker than it normally does.

Does it hurt when the mucus plug comes out?

Most women feel absolutely nothing when the mucus plug discharges from the body. They only notice something is different when they see the mucus in their underwear or on toilet paper when they go to the bathroom. In some cases, they don’t even notice it at all because the plug discharges slowly over time.

What should I do when my mucus plug discharges?

Use the discharging of the mucus plug as an early warning sign that labor will start in the near future. It could be a couple of weeks until you actually go into labor, but at least you have time to get mentally ready and do any last minute preparations to your home. There is no need to panic when the mucus plug comes out, unless you see high levels of blood come with it. If this is the case, contact your doctor.