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A key sign your body is getting ready for birth is when you lose your mucus plug. But what does it look like and how do you know if you have lost it?
One clear and early labour sign is the passing of your mucus plug – this is also known as a ‘show’ or a ‘bloody show’. It’s completely different to your waters breaking.
The mucus plug is a thick substance made of mucus and cells from the cervix that covers the opening of your uterus during pregnancy. The mucus plug has been blocking your cervix since early pregnancy to help prevent infection.
As your cervix prepares for labour, the mucus plug comes away and it will pass through your vagina around the time of your due date.
It can come out all at once, or in small amounts. You may notice a heavy discharge, or a vaginal discharge streaked with red blood in your underwear or when you go to the toilet.
The mucus plug protects your cervix from infection throughout your pregnancy. It prevents bacteria from entering the uterus or womb. Every woman has one.
Your mucus plug starts to form when you first become pregnant and the glands in your cervix secrete mucus, but it doesn’t reach its full size until you’re about 12 weeks along. It usually stays in place throughout your pregnancy until you begin to dilate before labour.
Since the mucus plug is designed to ‘plug’ your cervix, it’s usually about 4cm long and there is roughly two teaspoons full of mucus in the plug.
When you see the mucus plug, you’ll notice it is different from ‘regular’ discharge that most women get – it’s thicker and there’s a lot more of it.
It may be slightly bloody. “The mucus plug colour is usually white, yellowish, beige, or brown, or any variant thereof,” says Dr Michael Cackovic. “It can have a red or pink tinge associated with blood.”
Losing your mucus plug might happen when you go to the toilet, or you might find it in your underwear. It’s important to remember that they do not all look the same!
Here are some examples, shared online, by other women… (apologies if you are squeamish)
Usually, you lose your mucus plug after 37 weeks. It is possible to lose your mucus plug earlier, but if that happens call your doctor or midwife immediately – it could be a sign of very early labour and you could be putting yourself at risk of infection.
If you think you might have lost your mucus plug early or you aren’t sure, talk to your doctor too. If you can, keep it in a small pot and take it along to show your health care provider.
In late pregnancy, your baby should settle downwards into your pelvis, ready to enter the world. Doctors and midwives will often tell you that your baby’s head is engaged. Sometimes this is called ‘lightening’, because you’ll feel some relief from the pressure on your stomach and lungs as your baby moves down.
When your baby is engaged, your body will produce the hormones (prostaglandin) that stimulates your cervix to ripen. Ripening means that your cervix softens and shortens in readiness for labour.
This causes the mucus plug that has sealed the entrance to your womb to slip away and come out.
It’s important to remember that losing your mucus plug does NOT necessarily mean you are in labour. Your labour may not start for hours or even days
However, your ‘show’ and losing this vaginal discharge plug could mean that labour has started. Early labour, is when your cervix starts to open to prepare for the actual birth process, and it is when you can feel some mild contractions – like period cramps or a low and persistent backache.
Some women never realise they have lost their mucus plug, while others feel it immediately. Both are completely normal.
If you’re past your due date, it’s understandable you want to speed up labour and losing your plug definitely means you are heading in the right direction, but trying to remove your mucus plug is not going to be possible or help!
Your mucus plug only comes away when your cervix dilates.
This article appears on Practical Parenting and is published here with permission.