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Mucus plug: What is it and what does it mean?

Section: Pregnancy
Mucus plug: all you need to know

Who knew that getting pregnant would mean you'd get to learn so many new phrases? Along with nub theory, linia negra and plenty of other new words, you'll no doubt have heard of mucus plug, and be wondering all about it. 

What is it? What does it mean? And what happens when you lose it? We've got the lowdown for you... 

What is the mucus plug?

It's not the most attractive of terms, but to put it simply, the mucus plug is a sticky slippery substance made by the cells of your cervix. 

Fitz-Desorgher says it's important to remember that although people might tell you that seeing the mucus plug means that labour is starting, this isn't true. 

According to Rachel Fitz-Desorgher, a midwife with 30 years’ experience in infant feeding, active births and working with parents, we need it for two reasons. 

'Because it is sticky, it can stop infectious bugs from going up into the womb,' she says. 'Plus, because it is slippery, it can help lubricate the vagina during labour and birth.'

When does the mucus plug come away and what does it mean?

Ever heard other mums saying their mucus plug has come away and wondered what it meant? There are plenty of myths surrounding pregnancy show, but the thing to remember is that it may come out differently for each woman. 

'Normally, the cervix is firm and unable to stretch open,' says Fitz-Desorgher. 'It is like a closed door. 'As pregnancy nears the end, hormones cause the cervix to soften and become stretchy in preparation for labour and birth. 

'This softening process can start some weeks before even the very earliest stage of labour and then, as soon as the cervix is softer, it can let go of the mucus. 

'Sometimes the mucus stays stuck up inside the top of the vagina and sometimes it comes out and we can see it.'

Does the mucus plug coming away mean I'm going into labour? 

Fitz-Desorgher says it's important to remember that although people might tell you that seeing the mucus plug means that labour is starting, this isn't true. 

'The mucus can start coming away as soon as the cervix begins softening which means that you might get a mucusy discharge up to some weeks before the first contractions,' she says. 

'At the opposite end of the scale, if the mucus stays stuck up inside the vagina, you might not see it at all until your baby is coming out. Because the mucus is made by the cells of the cervix, as it comes away, more is made. Sometimes the mucus gets dislodged and comes away following sex or a vaginal examination.'

What does the mucus plug look like?

Once again, this varies from woman to woman, with different appearances for different mums. 

'The term "plug" is very misleading - it makes it sound solid, like a cork,' says Fitz-Desorgher. 'In truth, while the mucus can sometimes be quite thick, opaque and sticky, more often it is like raw egg-white. 

'It is very slimy and difficult to clean away with tissue. As the cervix softens more and more, it starts to pull up a little and this can cause a little blood to be lost (this is quite normal) and so the mucus is then mixed with that. So anything from an opaque, thick, sticky vaginal loss through to a slippery, clear slimy mucus streaked with blood is quite normal.'

She also cautions us to remember that it's also normal not to lose the mucus, adding that this doesn't mean your labour won't start. 'The range of normal is very large,' she says. 

What should you do when you lose it?

Don't panic! Just because you've lost the mucus plug doesn't mean your baby is on the way. 

'If the mucus is just as described above and you have no other symptoms, then simply protect your pants and don't worry,' says Fitz-Desorgher. 

'Telling family and friends that you have lost your mucus plug simply puts every one needlessly on high alert when it might still be some weeks before baby makes an appearance and you can do without the frequent calls and other people’s anxiety.'

However, she adds, there are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for the baby's arrival. 

'It is sensible to start getting extra rest and some early nights so that, as soon as labour does start, you are not exhausted,' she advises. 

'If you are dripping blood or the blood loss is not mixed in with mucus, or if you are worried that your baby is behaving differently from usual, or if you are unwell, or have other new symptoms that you don't understand, call your midwife or the hospital where you plan to birth your baby,' she adds. 'A midwife will be able to check you and your baby and offer advice and reassurance.'

What should you do if you lose it earlier in pregnancy?

While it is possible to lose mucus from the cervix following an examination or sex, if it's before 37 weeks, you should let your midwife know. 

'If you have no other symptoms to indicate labour is about to start, then your midwife will be able to advise and reassure you that all is well,' Rachel says. 'Only a trained professional can judge whether or not this early loss of mucus is okay or not, so do not rely on well-meaning friends, family or a Facebook group!'

Is it the same as a bloody show?

Like so many things in pregnancy, there are many ways of describing the mucus plug - but it is indeed the same as a bloody show. 

'The mucus plug is usually called "a show" and is often described as "a bloody show" because the mucus frequently contains streaks of blood,' says Rachel. 'There is no difference between a mucus plug and a show and a bloody show. Different name, same thing.'

Rachel Fitz-Desorgher’s first book Your Baby Skin to Skin: Learn to Trust your Baby's Instincts in the first year is out now. (£12.99, White Ladder Press).

 

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