What is a mucus plug during pregnancy?
The mucus plug is really exactly what it sounds like a "plug" made out of mucus that closes the cervix. The cervix creates this mucus soon after conception, to serve as an additional layer of protection for the developing fetus. The fetus is, of course, protected by the amniotic fluid, amniotic sac, and the uterus and cervix. The mucus plug stops bacteria from entering the uterus during a bath, swimming, sex, or gynecological examinations. When you think about it, the mucus isn't nearly as yucky as it sounds like, and it's actually a pretty nifty thing! At the end of pregnancy, the cervix starts to dilate and efface, to open and to become soften, shorter and thinner.
This process will allow the baby to move through when you give birth. During the dilation and effacement process, a pregnant woman who is nearing labor and delivery will also lose the mucus plug it will come loose with all that stuff happening to the cervix! Not every pregnant woman will notice her mucus plug, but those who do see it can assume that there is a huge chance they will start experiencing contractions soon.
How do you know you lost your mucus plug... and is it always a sign of labor?
A mucus plug can be big or small, and come out all at once or in parts. It can look like a mixture of your usual cervical mucus (normal vaginal discharge) and snot, or glue, or slime. Sometimes, a mucus plug will even have traces of blood in it. This is normal, and probably the reason the mucus plug is also called a "bloody show" sometimes. The process of dilation and effacement will start during the last few weeks of your third trimester of pregnancy, before you are due to give birth. Losing the mucus plug is often mentioned as a sign that labor is imminent. While this is true for many women (me too, twice!), it is also possible to lose the mucus plug in the weeks before labor. It's not necessarily true that seeing a mucus plug means you will go into labor in the next 24 hours. Not having seen a mucus plug doesn't mean that the contractions you are experiencing are not labor, either. Some women even lose their mucus plug during labor! If you lose your mucus plug before you go into labor, it can simply be formed again by the cervix.
What are the other signs labor is about to start?
Whether you've seen your mucus plug or not, you will definitely be getting itchy and wondering what the signs of impending labor are if you are nearing your due date! Along with the bloody show, or not as the case may be, you may notice your baby dropping lower into your pelvis. This means that your baby is positioning him or herself in the correct position for the birth, and may be pressing down on your cervix. You may feel as if the baby could just drop out any second! A constant low back ache, and the feeling you need to use the bathroom even more often than at any other point in your pregnancy, may be other signs that you are going to be giving birth soon.
You may have diarrhea, and more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions as well. Diarrhea is the body's way to clean your body before labor, and it's pretty handy! Not every woman has this, though. Besides these physical symptoms that you may be going into labor soon, many soon-to-be mothers also feel the need to clean the house, iron the baby's clothes, or other similar manifestations of the nesting instinct. This is really interesting, and a powerful reminder that humans are just like other animals! By the time your bag of waters breaks or you are experiencing frequent contractions, your labor has started and your baby will be there soon! Do you have any stories to share about your mucus plug? Or would you like to ask a question? Feel free to leave a comment!