How long after losing the mucus plug does labour start?

Lyndsey Rodrigues

Lyndsey Rodrigues

Lyndsey Rodrigues has worked as a writer, producer, tv host and editor and is now serving as the Head of Content here at Kiindred. She has two sons - a human one named Kai and a fur one named Memphis...and she is thoroughly obsessed with them both. Before becoming a mum, Lyndsey spent over ten years living in New York City where her hobbies included live music, architecture,...
Updated on Apr 03, 2024 · 7 mins read
How long after losing the mucus plug does labour start?

The term “mucus plug” is not the most appetising, but it’s one to get familiar with as you approach your final trimester of pregnancy – especially if it’s your first baby.

If you’re wondering “how long after losing mucus plug does labor start?”, you’re in the right place – but we must warn you that the answer isn’t necessarily straightforward. This is because the time between losing the mucus plug and the onset of labour can vary widely among pregnant people.

Losing the mucus plug is just one of several signs that the body is preparing for labour, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that labour will start immediately.

Another thing to note is that the mucus plug can be lost gradually or all at once.

Told you it wasn’t always straightforward! Nevertheless, let’s chip away at everything you need to know about losing your mucus plug and what it means for your pregnancy.

What is a mucus plug?

The mucus plug is a collection of thick, jelly like mucus that forms in the cervix during pregnancy. Its primary function is to seal off the cervix, creating a barrier between the uterus and the external environment. This barrier can prevent bacteria and other potentially harmful substances from entering the uterus, thus protecting the developing fetus. Pretty handy, right?

Additionally, the mucus plug acts as a protective barrier against infections.

What does a mucus plug look like?

The mucus plug has a gelatinous and thick consistency, and its appearance can vary among women. Located in the cervix, it is typically clear or cloudy, and it may be tinged with streaks of blood (more on that shortly). The appearance of the mucus plug can vary from woman to woman.

Signs of losing the mucus plug

The signs of losing your mucus plug will vary from person to person. However, some common indications that it is happening include:

Increased vaginal discharge: The mucus plug is a thick, gelatinous substance, so its loss can result in an increase in vaginal discharge. This discharge may be clear, cloudy, or even slightly bloody.

Mucus discharge: You may notice the passage of a mucus-like substance, sometimes in small amounts and at other times more noticeable. The texture can vary, but it is generally thicker than normal discharge.

Pelvic pressure: As the cervix prepares for labour and begins to dilate and efface, you may experience increased pressure in your pelvic region or discomfort.

Remember that not all women will have these exact symptoms and some women may not even notice the loss of their mucus plug because of the increased vaginal discharge during pregnancy.

Mucus plug discharge vs. vaginal discharge

You might be wondering, okay great but how is mucus plug discharge different than regular discharge? How am I supposed to know the difference?

Here are a few ways to tell if you’re losing your mucus plug or if it’s just regular vaginal discharge.

  • The mucus plug is typically thicker and more gelatinous compared to regular vaginal discharge. It may have a sticky or mucus-like texture.
  • The colour of the mucus plug can vary but is often clear, cloudy, or very slightly tinged with blood.
  • The expulsion of the mucus plug is often a noticeable event, and you may see a larger amount of discharge than usual. Regular vaginal discharge is usually more subtle and can vary in amount throughout the menstrual cycle.
  • Losing your mucus plug is often considered a sign that the body is preparing for labour, especially if it occurs in the later stages of pregnancy. Regular vaginal discharge is a normal part of the body’s self-cleaning mechanism and can occur throughout the menstrual cycle.

What is a bloody show?

Okay, so we mentioned the term “bloody show” before, so it’s only fair to provide a more detailed explanation of what it actually is!

The term “bloody show” is often used to describe the presence of blood-tinged mucus (like creamy pink snot) that may be expelled from the vagina. In a nutshell, it’s a thick vaginal discharge that contains mucus and blood from the cervix The cervix is full of blood vessels, which makes it prone to bleeding.

Losing the mucus plug and having a bloody show are not the same thing, despite their close relationship. The mucus plug is transparent and mostly free of blood, whereas the bloody show is a combination of mucus and blood.

What colour is the bloody show?

The colour of the bloody show can range from pink to brown, to bright red blood coloured.

A bloody show is usually an indication that labour is almost ready to start. Most women go into labour in a day or two, but some start having contractions hours after noticing the bloody show. Some women may not notice the bloody show because it occasionally happens in tandem with active labour.

What causes the mucus plug to fall out?

The mucus plug dislodges from the cervix as a result of hormonal and physical changes that occur as the body prepares for labour. The specific reasons behind the loss of the mucus plug include:

  • Changes to the cervix: As your cervix dilates, softens and effaces, it can put pressure on the mucus plug, leading to its expulsion.
  • Hormonal influences: Hormones such as prostaglandins play a role in cervical ripening. Prostaglandins help soften the cervix by promoting the breakdown of collagen, a protein that provides structure to the cervix. As the cervix softens, the mucus plug may become more easily dislodged.
  • Uterine contractions: The uterus begins to experience contractions as it prepares for labour. These contractions can put pressure on the cervix, contributing to the expulsion of the mucus plug.

While the loss of the mucus plug can be an early sign that labour is approaching, it could still be a few weeks before you go into active labour! It is, however, a clear sign that you are on the home stretch, so make sure your hospital bag is packed and ready to go, just in case!

Does losing your mucus plug mean labour is near?

Not necessarily! As we touched on previously, losing your mucus plug does not always mean that you will be giving birth soon – but it does mean that your body is getting ready to welcome your little one.

The expulsion of the mucus plug is one of the early signs that the cervix is undergoing changes in preparation for childbirth.

It is best to speak with your healthcare provider if you feel uneasy about losing your mucus plug or if you encounter other labour-related symptoms like frequent contractions or the rupture of the amniotic sac (breaking of the water). They can offer advice tailored to your particular circumstances and assist in choosing the best course of action for your pregnancy.

Can labour start without losing a mucus plug?

It sure can!

Labour can absolutely start without the noticeable loss of the mucus plug. While the expulsion of the mucus plug is considered one of the early signs that the body is preparing for labour, not all women will experience this event, and it is not a mandatory precursor to labour.

What to do after the mucus plug comes out?

First and foremost, try to stay calm and remember this is a very normal part of pregnancy.

You can pop in a panty liner to be more comfortable after you notice the loss of the mucus plug, and then be on the lookout for other signs that labour may be fast approaching (such as regular and increasingly intense contractions, the rupture of the amniotic sac (water breaking), and pressure in your pelvis).

When to contact a healthcare provider

If you experience heavy bleeding, regular and frequent contractions, severe abdominal pain or decreased fetal movements, please contact your healthcare provider as soon as you can. Likewise, if your water has broken you should call your midwife or the hospital where you are planning to give birth for further instruction as this can be a sign of early labour.

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