What Is a Mucus Plug?

QUESTION

Dear Midwife,
I am 38 weeks pregnant. People have been asking me if my mucus plug broke, but I don't know what that is. Could you please explain?

I want to know what it feels like when your water breaks and you start getting contractions. At 37 weeks my doctor told me that I am 1 cm dilated and she asked if I felt any contractions. I feel lots of different things and I dont know what contractions are like since this my 1st pregnancy. I really appreciate all your time and help.

Thank you.
T. Patel

ANSWER

The mucus plug is in the passageway between your vagina and your uterus, inside the cervix. Some women never see the mucus plug, some seem to lose it over and over again. It looks like a big gob of nasal discharge (snot) and may have red or pink or brown streaks. It may come out after a vaginal exam, or when you are in the very early stages of dilation.

Contractions that will result in a delivery are usually painful, regular, and they get longer and stronger over time. Labor contractions often begin by lasting 20-30 seconds every 5-10 min (early labor) and eventually get to where they are 45-60 seconds ever 2-3 minutes (active labor). If you are not sure whether you are in labor or not, you are probably not if it's your first baby.

Your water can break in different ways, sometimes it's just a constant dribble and sometimes it's a gush. Most women's water doesn't break until they are in active labor, but a few break early.

It sounds like you would benefit from a good childbirth education class or a book about labor (I like Penny Simkin's The Birth Partner). Good luck with your labor and delivery!

-- Cynthia, CNM, PhD.

Cynthia Flynn

Cynthia Flynn, CNM. PhD, is the General Director of the Family Health and Birth Center which provides prenatal, birth, postnatal, gynecological and primary health care to underserved women and their families in Washington, D.C. Recently Cynthia served as Associate Professor of Nursing at Seattle University. There she not only taught, but remained in full scope clinical midwifery practice at Valley Medical Center where she cared for pregnant and birthing women, and practices well-woman gynecology, family planning, and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

Cynthia founded Columbia Women's Clinic and Birth Center, where she took care of pregnant women and infants up to two weeks of age and attended both birth center and hospital births. Before Cynthia earned her CNM, she worked as a registered nurse in labor and delivery and postpartum and is a certified Doula and Doula trainer.