Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mucous Plug: Not for the faint of heart

OK listen up people! This blog might just make you weak in the knees, so be warned!

Since you are obviously still reading, (unless you just skipped over the previous sentence above), you are fine reading about big globs of goo. Cool! Let’s get started :-)

Let’s start with a definition of the mucous plug: The mucous plug is a collection of cervical mucous that blocks the opening of the cervix. It provides an added barrier of protection for the baby. It is super thick, (thicker than snot), and can be different shades of color. It may look creamish (varying from white to even tan) in color, and is most often tinged with dark brown, red or pink - due to new or old blood from the cervix. Think of a mixture of (and I really hate putting food and mucous plugs in the same sentence..but)...tapioca pudding and jello. More like Jello. It’s thick, I tell ya! Somebody was nice enough to put their hunk of mucous plug on the internet, and if you search in google images for ‘mucous plug’, I’m sure you will find it very quickly. I’d put it here, but I don’t want to mess with asking permission. Here is a nice picture:

Normally, during the last trimester (and even before), our bodies tend to make copious amounts of vaginal discharge. It can get bad enough that wearing a panty liner is quite helpful. This is not the mucous plug, but women get confused and worried about not being able to distinguish between the two. Some women worry they won’t know if they have lost it, and many worry when the *do* lose it!

I have something very important to tell you:

Don’t worry! Losing your mucous plug is not something that warrants a call to your doctor/midwife. (Unless you have not yet reached 36 weeks - and we’ll talk about that in a minute). You DO NOT have to wrap it up in toilet paper, or put it in a zip-lock baggie and take it up to labor and delivery for further diagnosis. Trust me, the nurses do not care to see your mucous up close and personal, and it does not mean you are IN LABOR :-)

So what does it mean when you lose your plug? Not much! It doesn’t give any indication that your cervix has changed from your last visit. It *can* mean your cervix has changed slightly, but without steady contractions, you are still not in labor. You may lose your plug hours OR EVEN WEEKS before labor begins, so it certainly no indication of when labor will begin. Because the plug is built of cervical secretions, your cervix will continue to secrete mucous, and your plug will *rebuild* itself over a day or two. That is why some women may lose their plug more than once, -and- it is super common to lose bits and pieces over time, only to find more bits and chunks later.

Some women never notice losing their plug. This is fine too! Some women do not lose it until they are well into active labor. Of course, as previously mentioned, some women start losing it weeks before labor. (Hey, we learn by repetition, and that last sentences bears repeating)!

Many are concerned with their activity level after losing their plug. They worry about risk of infection. Some ask if they can still take a bath, or have intercourse. Yes, it is fine. The baby is still protected, and unless your doctor/midwife tells you otherwise (and it’s not going to be because you have lots your plug), you can still continue with ‘normal activities’.

If you are earlier than 36 weeks' pregnant when you see blood-tinged mucus, or if you have any vaginal bleeding, you should call care giver. Better yet, have this conversation prior to 36 weeks. Ask your doctor or midwife what he/she wants you to do if you think you have lost your mucous plug before 36 weeks. Some care providers may want you to call - even after hours, and some may say to wait until morning. Depending on several factors. So let’s talk about what those factors might be:

Intercourse, vaginal exams, and an already dilated cervix may cause you to lose all or part of your plug. So, if you lose your plug after these things, it was probably do to the ‘messing’ around down there. So sometimes, your doctor will tell you not to bother calling if there has been a recent vaginal check or whatever.. BUT, sometimes they tell you to call anyway. So that is why I say, get it all straightened out before hand, so you know what to do/when to call :-) After 36 weeks, there shouldn’t be a reason to call at all. If it makes you feel better you can mention it at your next appointment :-)

That wasn’t so bad was it?