Here’s another great question to add to the list of “things you never thought you’d have to ask before you got pregnant”: How do you know the difference between your mucus plug vs. discharge?
The question is more common than you might think.
Especially as a lot of women have an increased amount of vaginal discharge during pregnancy, which can be confusing in itself.
Plus, it’s an important question to ask because if it is your mucus plug, it can be a sign that labor (and finally meeting your baby!) isn’t far off.
In true Peanut fashion, nothing’s off-limits here.
Let’s get up close and personal and learn the difference between mucus plug and discharge.
In this article: 📝
- What is a mucus plug?
- Mucus plug vs discharge: what’s the difference?
- Can mucus plug look like discharge?
- When do you lose your mucus plug during pregnancy?
- Can a mucus plug come out slowly?
- How long after losing a mucus plug is labor?
What is a mucus plug?
Ok, first thing’s first, what exactly is a mucus plug?
Basically, the mucus plug is a stopper that forms in your cervix during early pregnancy to keep your little one safe from bacteria and viruses.
Pretty cool, huh?
It’s made of sticky “cervical secretions” (or cervical mucus, to be precise) that form a barrier between the top of your vagina and the bottom of your uterus.
This build-up of cervical mucus happens naturally throughout your pregnancy journey, keeping your baby’s home moist and free from pathogens.
The mucus plug is the complete sealing of your cervical canal.
Usually, this doesn’t get dislodged until at least 37 weeks, but it can happen for a few different reasons, and we’ll dive into these down below.
Heads up: if you hear someone talking about a “bloody show”, this is just another term for losing your mucus plug in late pregnancy.
Mucus plug vs discharge: what’s the difference?
This is where things get a little bit tricky.
Because of the constant flux of your hormones, your cervical mucus is going to change right alongside it.
It’s not unusual to experience more vaginal discharge than normal, and most Peanut mamas will tell you that leukorrhea is part of the package.
When you’re already navigating increased watery discharge, you may not notice you’ve lost your mucus plug.
That’s why mucus plug vs discharge pictures can be so helpful, and the Peanut community is not shy about sharing them.
Trust us, it’s a blessing.
But before you dive into the utterly natural world of mucus plugs, you might want to know what you can expect.
Mucus plugs often look like thick, string-like strands of mucus.
Sometimes it may come out in one large blob or show up in your vaginal discharge with streaks of blood.
If you lose your mucus plug in one piece, it’s going to be:
- About four to five cm (two inches) long
- About one to two tablespoons in volume
- Sticky, stringy, and a bit like jelly
- Clear, pink, or streaked with a little red or brown blood
It all depends on when you lose it in your pregnancy.
The key difference between your mucus plug and discharge will be thickness.
This all makes sense when you see mucus plug vs discharge pictures.
Can mucus plug look like discharge?
The mucus plug might look a little bit like the discharge you see around ovulation (also known as egg white cervical mucus, because it looks like – you guessed it – raw egg whites), but it will probably be stickier and not as stretchy.
What the mucus plug should never be is smelly or green in color.
This can be a sign of an infection that needs to be checked out by your doctor.
And while it’s normal to see a little bit of blood in the mucus (because some of the small blood vessels in your cervix can break when it comes away), it should never be a lot of red blood.
This can be a sign of a serious problem like a placental abruption, which also needs immediate medical care.
When do you lose your mucus plug during pregnancy?
You lose your mucus plug when your cervix starts to efface (thin) and dilate (open), which is the reason that it often comes out in very early labor.
But there are a number of reasons your mucus plug has dislodged:
- Cervical exam: Sometimes, you can lose your mucus plug after something has been poking around at your cervix, so it’s not uncommon to see it after an internal exam towards the end of pregnancy.
- Sexual intercourse: There’s nothing wrong with having sexy time during pregnancy. In fact, with so many changes happening in your body, you may find sex even more enjoyable. That being said, losing the mucus plug too early isn’t ideal, so proceed with tenderness.
- Your cervix is softening: It’s all part of those essential changes, mama. Closer to the end of pregnancy, your cervix will start preparing itself for your baby’s arrival. This dilation can cause the mucus plug to dislodge, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be heading straight into labor.
If you do lose your mucus plug after an exam or before 37 weeks, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.
This is because it can be a sign that you’re about to go into labor and, as uncomfortable as the third trimester can be, you’d probably prefer it if your little one stayed in there for a couple more weeks.
Can a mucus plug come out slowly?
For some women, it can fall out in one piece, but it can also appear as excess discharge over a couple of days.
If you’re noticing more vaginal discharge than normal, it might actually be the mucus plug dissolving.
In this case, it’ll look like:
- More discharge than you’re used to.
- Sticky, stringy, or a bit more jelly-like than what you’d normally see.
- Clear, pink, or streaked with a little red or brown blood (in comparison to normal, white-ish vaginal discharge).
How long after losing a mucus plug is labor?
Confident your mucus plug is dislodged?
Before you get too excited, there may be a chance baby is not quite ready to move home.
While some mamas-to-be will lose their mucus plug a day or two before they have their babies (and we hope you’re one of them), it’s totally normal to still have to wait a few more weeks before the big day.
We recommend keeping an eye out on signs of labor such as :
- Lightening: Also known as baby dropping, this is when your baby literally drops downwards into your pelvis. If you find yourself able to breathe more deeply, your baby has dropped.
- Diarrhea: It’s not ideal, but diarrhea is a good sign your muscles are starting to relax in time for labor.
- Cramps: Not quite labor contractions, but you may feel some cramping or pain in your lower back. Your body’s getting ready, mama!
If you’re a little ways from labor yet, don’t worry, baby will still be nicely protected before they make their long-awaited debut.
What does discharge look like right before labor?
A good indicator you’re in the category of mamas set to give birth within hours of losing your mucus plug is a bit of blood in your discharge.
That’s that “bloody show” we mentioned earlier.
It’s not uncommon to see pink or even brown discharge just before the first stage of labor.
And if you’re closing on the 40th week, then mama, all signs point to baby time!
The mucus plug is not the most glamorous part of pregnancy (or straightforward), but it is essential.
If you still have doubts about whether what you’re seeing in your tissue paper is a mucus plug or wish to consult with other mucus plug vs discharge pictures, check in with the Peanut mamas – it’s one of the many conversations they’re having.
Hang in there, mama. There’s not long to go now!