After a woman conceives, a layer of mucus begins to block her cervix (the opening of the uterus). This gooey substance protects the fetus from bacteria and infection during gestation, says Adeeti Gupta, M.D., FACOG, founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York, New York. Losing your mucus plug can be a surefire sign that labor is approaching—but when does it usually happen? And what if you lose your mucus plug early? Here's what expectant parents need to know.
When Do You Lose Your Mucus Plug?
Your mucus plug looks like a "gooey blob," says Dr. Gupta. It can be thick, gelatinous, and yellowish-white—similar to blowing your nose during a bad cold. Sometimes women also notice a little pink or brown coloring.
Most women lose their mucus plug as the body starts preparing for delivery. It usually happens in the ninth month of pregnancy, when the cervix begins to soften or dilate. But while losing the mucus plug means labor is on its way, you shouldn't rush out of the house just yet. "Losing the mucus plug can occur days to even weeks before labor begins and is not predictive of when that will start," says Amy VanBlaricom, M.D., medical director of operations at Ob Hospitalist Group, a nationwide OB-GYN hospitalist employer.
Keep in mind that not every woman notices when they lose their mucus plug, because sometimes it's released gradually over several days. There's no need to examine your underwear and toilet paper as your due date approaches. And remember: Always see your doctor if you're unsure about a pregnancy symptom, since it's better to be safe than sorry!
What If I Lose My Mucus Plug Early?
Losing your mucus plug indicates that labor is near, but the first contractions might not come for days or weeks, says board-certified nurse midwife Kristin Mallon of Integrative Obstetrics in Jersey City, New Jersey. Losing your mucus plug after 37 weeks isn't usually a cause for concern. In fact, many women who have previously given birth will lose their mucus plug around that time.
"Loss of the mucus plug often happens when the cervix has opened and loosened a little bit," says Mallon. "The body can regenerate the mucus, so you don't need to worry about infection if you lose it after 37 weeks. You should still report this to your doctor or midwife though." After the mucus plug is released, you should also watch out for other signs of labor. Head to the hospital if your water breaks, or if contractions are lasting at least 30 seconds and coming every three-five minutes, says Dr. Gupta.
If you lose your mucus plug before 37 weeks of pregnancy, see your doctor right away. It's likely that a cervical exam, sexual intercourse, or other natural cause triggered the mucus plug to be released early. However, you could be experiencing a pregnancy complication like preterm labor, says Dr. Gupta. Preterm labor could lead to premature delivery, which raises the risk for health problems for the newborn.