The mucus plug is a protective mechanism of fetal growth and development. We’ll talk about how long after you lose your mucus plug you’ll go into labor, what it looks like, cramping, and how to tell your mucus plug from discharge.
Before we get into this too far, you might wonder why I have so much knowledge about mucus plugs. Let me introduce myself — hello! I’m Hilary — many people know me as The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind this website Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I’ve had a lot of worried patients call or come to the hospital (sometimes with photos or with the actual mucus plug) so I know all about what you’re thinking or worried about.
Also, as a mom of three I spent some time gagging in the toilet over my own mucus plug… I get it.
Come join me in my free pregnancy series:
Your Mucus Plug
What is a mucus plug?
In pregnancy, your body creates a barrier of mucus (basically some thick discharge) at the neck of the cervix. It is a collection of cells, discharge and mucus that forms at the entrance to your cervix.
It does it to protect the baby from whatever was to come up your vagina.
I think of it as a “cork” keeping things out of where the baby is.
Losing Your Mucus Plug
As your cervix opens up a bit, that “cork” loosens — and it’s not being kept in as much as it was before.
Sometimes it falls out as one big chunk and sometimes it sort of dissolves and comes out in smaller pieces.
It’s a good reason to wear at least a pantiliner that last month of pregnancy — these are my favorite.
What does it mean when you lose the mucus plug?
The loss of the mucus plug likely means that your cervix is softening. Think of it as a bottle of wine, where the lip melts a bit in the hot sun. If the cork was hanging upside down, it might come out!
So, the mucus plugs is that cork in your cervical canal and it slips into the birth canal.
A lot of people think that once they lose their mucus plug they will magically go into labor, but that is not always the case. That being said it is difficult really pinpoint the beginning of labor in most cases.
Since you’re still here with me — it shows me you have some interest in what labor will be like and what to watch for. I would 100% recommend taking a prenatal class to get informed and also to get your partner on the same page as you.
Thousands of couples have taken this class since it first opened in 2015. I love how it prepares BOTH of you in just a few hours, entirely on your own timeframe!
What does the Mucus Plug Look Like?
It looks like dried mucus and dark brown blood — normally around the size of a quarter. It’s like your cervix creates a little dam for itself with what it has. If you really want to get grossed out (you can check it out in google images).
Somehow in the pregnant woman, your body just sort of keeps your regular cervical mucus (this is normal discharge created by your cervical glands) and uses it to protect the baby.
How do you know if you’ve lost your mucus plug?
Most people notice it as mucus with some dark blood in the toilet or after they wipe after using the restroom and they find it on the toilet paper.
Note: It can be SUPER gross. I actually almost threw-up when I saw mine (I’d never “lost” my plug until my last baby).
How long after losing my mucus plug will I go into labor?
Probably in the next month…. and that is probably not the answer you were hoping for (I do have a “when will I go into labor quiz” that shares some of the other signs to be watching for).
In reality, it mostly means your cervix ix starting to open and soften — and that’s about it.
That doesn’t mean you’re going into labor. I do have a whole post on the signs of labor.
Although some people lose their mucus plug while they’re in early labor — so it really varies.
The ACOG website makes it akin to the baby dropping (or lowering into your pelvis).
BTW if you’re looking to pack your hospital bag now — this is a handy resource:
I also have a new mini-class that shares the signs of labor you should be watching for!
What happens after you lose your mucus plug?
Most often, nothing. Again, it’s not a sign of labor — it is a sign of your cervix softening.
It likely means that labor will follow soon, but whether that’s today or in a week (or four) only the future will tell.
Make sure that you are still feeling for fetal movement! #soapbox 🙂
How to make your mucus plug come out?
There is NO reason to care about it coming out.
You can have a baby with a mucus plug. Or, sometimes you don’t know that it’s already come out.
This doesn’t need to be a concern at all.
Mucus plugs often come out after you have had a vaginal or pelvic exam. I have a whole post on when they start exams.
Can you have sexual intercourse after losing your mucus plug?
Yup. You mostly need the barrier when your baby is small and developing. Once you lose it, your baby is larger and doesn’t need that protection anymore.
Of course, check with your provider if you have ANY questions about it.
Cramping after losing your mucus plug
Your mucus plug falls out, often because your uterus is contracting now and then, which helps to soften & open your cervix. This can also manifest sometimes with back pain too.
So, you may have had some cramping or mild contractions before and just didn’t notice it.
Also, often getting up from the restroom makes you contract, as does peeing. So, while you may cramp after losing your plug — you should keep an eye on other things to see if if turns into labor.
Remember, that there are a LOT of symptoms of labor including cramping, changes in discharge and losing your mucus plug — and one symptom alone doesn’t usually mean too much. If you see a few of them, you may start to suspect that labor is coming.
The first stage of labor is also called that latent stage, likely because it takes quite a while to get going, create cervical dilation and move along to the active phase of labor (I have a whole video in here on the stages of labor).
Not sure what you’re feeling? — I have a whole post on what contractions feel like.
Is it your Mucus Plug or Discharge?
First off, it doesn’t really matter — so I wouldn’t lose too much sleep on this one.
BUT, usually, the mucus plug is thick and brownish in nature.
Discharge is usually thinner but can have some brownish tinge to it as well.
Often, as I said, the mucus plug sort of dissolves, so you might get chunks of it mixed with regular discharge.
ALSO, as you get closer to your due date, discharge gets a bit dicey. You might not even know if your water broke. However, after your water breaks — that is for SURE when labor starts, so it doesn’t matter as much about the mucus plug. Once the amniotic sac is broken (and amniotic fluid is coming out) there is an increased risk of infection (since your baby is now open to the outside world) — so providers would like you to have the baby within the next day or so of your water breaking.
FAQ’s about Mucus Plugs
Early in pregnancy — and throughout your first trimester, your body just somehow gathers the mucus and just “corks” off your cervix. It doesn’t just magically form by week five or something. BUT, usually in pregnant women, by the end of your first trimester, it’s pretty solid.
It can come out in early pregnancy and if you’re before 30 weeks of pregnancy or so, it’s probably a good idea to call your healthcare provider. It might be an indicator your cervix is softening before you want it to — it could be preterm labor (it can also be absolutely nothing, so do NOT worry if that is your question). Full term moms don’t need to worry.
Yes, mucus plugs are something that have “corked” off your uterus — it’s dried mucus. Bloody show is usually bright red and thinner in nature. Large amounts of bright red bleeding could be a placental abruption — call your provider. I have a whole post on bleeding at 20 weeks of pregnancy.
No, they are usually brownish/yellowish as they are dried mucus. If you have clear discharge, that is probably just a change in discharge as you near the end of pregnancy
It can be. I’d call your doctor or midwife as any sign of labor may mean it is time to head to the hospital.
No, active labor is considered when your cervix is ACTIVELY dilating — most often having painful regular contractions — this just shows it’s softened a bit. Learn more about active labor on my sister site.
No, but it could be worth mentioning at your next appointment.
Most people don’t lose it til’ after 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Where is the mucus plug located?
It’s at the bottom of your uterus at the cervix — that is where the baby will come out (you can read more about cervixes here)
Why does the mucus plug come out?
Your cervix has started to open and it no longer “corks” off the end of it. Think of it as a bottle of wine, but somehow the lip of it got larger, so the cork can’t stay in — and because it’s upside down, gravity pulls it out. It normally happens in late pregnancy.
It can also happen if the baby’s head is very low and sort of pushes it out.
Does the mucus plug smell?
Not really…. it’s just dried mucus, although it could smell a bit “fleshy” — I don’t think it’s anything too noticeable.
Can your mucus plug grow back?
I doubt it — it’s really formed in early pregnancy as a protective mechanism. That being said, as you near the end of your pregnancy you can have MANY changes in discharge, so you may just notice lots of stuff coming out — just preparing the way for that baby!
Can you slowly lose your mucus plug?
Yes, it may come out in pieces or a little at a time — it often doesn’t come out all at once!
Why is the mucus plug bloody
You may have had some implantation bleeding, or possible bleeding for vaginal exams in early pregnancy — that all sort of collects at the cervical outlet, which is why it has blood in it.
Your mucus plug isn’t always bloody though and to most people, it doesn’t look “bloody” (aka like a horror movie) — it looks dark brown and mucus-y.
Remember blood vessels in your vagina get extra blood, so often after sex or a cervical exam it’s not unusual to have a bit of bleeding. Always check with your provider if you have questions though.
Can they check my cervix if my mucus plug is intact
Yes, while protective, it’s not actually hard and a skilled practitioner will easily still be able to check your cervix.
Does the baby dropping make your mucus plug come out?
Not usually, but sometimes it drops because your cervix is opening — and in that case, it might allow your mucus plug to come out. Also, the increased pressure of the head above it might make it fall out.
Can you lose your mucus plug and not go into labor?
Yes, of course. As we talked about above — your mucus plug is just the cork. It may happen because you’re going into labor or sometimes it just happens…. Don’t miss my post all about the question — Am I in Labor?
Hilary has been an L&D nurse since 2001 — and has seen people bring in their mucus plug in a Tupperware container or take photos on their phone for us all to enjoy.
Please don’t bring your mucus plug to me in a container. The mucus plug isn’t a big deal. I’d encourage you to watch for all the signs that tell you if you’re in labor. The mucus plug can be one of the first signs of labor (but can also come a few weeks before actual labor. Labor symptoms are often very separate from this event.
AND, I’d encourage you to take a prenatal class. They’re hard to get in, so, grab this The Online Prenatal Class for Couples to get it done on your own time (on your COUCH). The absolute BEST way to do it — don’t forget that code PC10 will get you 10% off!
If you’re not quite ready for the whole class, try this Free Beginning Prenatal Class that will give you a LOT of good info, entirely free: