What is a Mucus Plug?

As unappealing as it sounds, the mucus plug serves a couple of very important purposes that contribute to a healthy pregnancy. If you're more than 36 weeks along, the sight of the mucus plug when going to the bathroom is a cause for celebration — it means that your body has begun the process of preparing for labor and delivery.

The mucus plug is exactly what the name suggests: it is an accumulation of mucus secretions that build up in the cervical canal, blocking the cervix. It not only helps seal up the cervix, but also protects the baby and mother from outside bacteria and infection that can harm the baby. As with any typical pregnancy, you will experience an increase in vaginal discharge, but when you pass the mucus plug, it will be noticeable.

As your cervix begins the process of dilating (opening) and effacing (thinning) in anticipation of labor and delivery, your mucus plug will become dislodged and may start to pass when you go to the bathroom. You may notice a small increase in mucus-like discharge on your underwear over several days or weeks, or it may pass in a large clot-like clump. When the cervix begins dilating, sometimes blood vessels in the cervix break and this may tinge the mucus plug pink or red. By 36 weeks, you should be seeing your doctor on a weekly basis, so be sure to mention this at your next appointment. If you suddenly start passing bright red blood, call your doctor or 911 immediately — you may have a placental abruption. If you think you've passed the mucus plug prior to 36 weeks, be sure to call your doctor and let him or her know.

Since every pregnancy is different, there is no hard and fast rule as to when you pass your mucus plug, what it means in terms of when labor will occur or when your baby will be born. Some women will pass their mucus plug weeks before going into labor, while others will go into labor without even noticing any additional discharge. Remember that the loss of your mucus plug can also be attributed to a pelvic exam by your doctor. By the end of your pregnancy, your doctor or midwife will be checking your cervix for any signs of dilation and effacement, and this can dislodge or disturb a mucus plug that is still firmly in place.

If you are passing your mucus plug, this may be a sign that you need to get in gear and finish up those last minute preparations for your baby. Make sure that your hospital bag is packed, wash the baby's clothes and give your employer and family a heads up that you may soon be heading to the hospital!

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