Pregnant woman mucus plug

As labor nears, you might be wondering what a mucus plug is and why someone might mention it with a grimace on their face. Rest assured that it’s a normal part of pregnancy and not a cause for concern. In fact, you might not even notice it! Still, it’s helpful to understand what the mucus plug is, what it looks like, and how long after losing the mucus plug labor might start. Read on for all the details.

What Is the Mucus Plug?

The mucus plug is a normal part of pregnancy. During your pregnancy, mucus accumulates in the cervix, forming a plug that protects your baby by preventing bacteria or infection from entering the uterus. You can think of it like a seal creating a barrier between your uterus and your vagina. Sometimes, the mucus plug is called the “bloody show,” or simply “the show.” This name comes from the fact that, when released, the mucus plug may mix with a little bit of blood in your cervix, which could give the discharge a slightly pink, red, or brown hue.

Is There a Difference Between the Bloody Show and the Mucus Plug?

The names mucus plug and bloody show are often used interchangeably. In some instances, as mentioned above, a slight distinction is made between a mucus plug that is clear and one that is bloody or has streaks of blood in it, which may instead be called a bloody show. Whichever term you use, your healthcare provider will know what you mean; you could even describe what you see to be more accurate.

What Does a Mucus Plug Look Like?

The discharge you might see in a mucus plug can be clear, pink, a little bloody, or brownish in color. The mucus can come out in one thick string, one big glob, or in smaller segments. You might notice it on the toilet paper after you wipe, or you may not see it at all! If you notice bleeding that’s heavy, like a menstrual period, contact your healthcare provider, as this might not be the mucus plug coming out but something else that may require medical attention. The overall look and texture of a mucus plug will vary from person to person, but most commonly the plug will be:

  • clear, off-white, or slightly bloody with a pink, red, or brown hue

  • thick, jelly-like, and slightly sticky and/or stringy

  • anywhere from one to two inches in length

  • anywhere from one to two tablespoons in volume

  • relatively odorless.

Is It the Mucus Plug or Vaginal Discharge?

Because vaginal discharge is common during pregnancy, it’s easy to mistake this for the mucus plug, especially as you near labor. So, if you’re wondering if it’s the mucus plug you see or normal vaginal discharge, here’s how you can tell:

  • Color. As you read above, the mucus plug is typically clear or off-white, but might appear red, brown, or pink if it mixes with blood in your cervix. Vaginal discharge, on the other hand, is usually light yellow or white.

  • Texture. The mucus plug is thick and jelly-like, whereas vaginal discharge tends to be thinner or lighter in texture and consistency.

  • Timing. Increased vaginal discharge is common throughout pregnancy, whereas the mucus plug acts like a barrier and typically isn’t expelled until later in your pregnancy.

Why and When Do You Lose Your Mucus Plug?

Losing your mucus plug is typically a sign that your cervix is starting to dilate (open). As the cervix dilates, the mucus pushes out into the vagina, which can be a sign you’re approaching labor—or it can be an early sign of labor itself. Read more about the other common signs of labor, including your water breaking. If you’ve reached at least 38 weeks in your pregnancy, then losing the mucus plug can be a sign that labor is approaching. You can contact your healthcare provider, who’ll advise you on the next steps, or you can wait until you experience contractions or your water breaking. Watch the video below to learn when it’s time to head to the hospital.

How Long After Losing the Mucus Plug Does Labor Start?

Although losing the mucus plug can be a sign of labor, it doesn’t always mean it’s baby time in the near future. The mucus plug can come loose several days or even one or two weeks before labor starts. Or, your mucus plug might want to wait until the last moment and appear at the very onset of labor. Every pregnancy is different, so contact your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns. If your pregnancy goes to full term, you’ll most likely lose your mucus plug in the ninth month of pregnancy. If you notice what looks like the mucus plug before 37 weeks of pregnancy, contact your healthcare provider, because this may be a sign of preterm labor. In many cases, contractions will start sometime soon after you lose the mucus plug. You might want to track them using this handy, printable contraction tracking chart. This will help you collect accurate information about your contractions that you can share with your healthcare provider. This downloadable chart, together with our information on how to time contractions, should make preparing for labor a bit easier.

The Bottom Line

Losing your mucus plug is a normal and typical occurrence in late pregnancy. The mucus plug creates a barrier to help protect your developing baby from any bacteria or infection, so it’s only natural to lose it as you near labor. And although it could come out in one go, many people don’t even notice the mucus plug or mistake it for light vaginal discharge. So, although the mucus plug might not be the prettiest part of pregnancy, it’s an exciting sign that your baby is on the way. When you lose your mucus plug, you might want to get your hospital bag ready for when it’s time to go. And if you have a written birth plan, now might be a good time to read over it, and pack it in your hospital bag, too! Are you waiting until your sweet baby’s arrival to decide on a name? For a little inspiration, use our Baby Name Generator to filter through thousands of names!