What’s The Difference Between a Mucus Plug vs. Discharge

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 16, 2022

Vaginal discharge is a normal experience for people with vaginas in their reproductive years. During pregnancy, the amount of discharge can increase.

There is also a different type of discharge every pregnant person produces called a mucus plug. This discharge accumulates at the entrance of the cervical canal in the early stage of pregnancy. 

The mucus plug helps prevent bacteria and other infections from getting to the uterus and baby. It might be difficult to tell whether you have lost your mucus plug or if it’s the usual discharge.

In this article, I’ll discuss the difference between a mucus plug and other vaginal discharge. I’ll also explain the difference between a mucus plug and a bloody show.

I’ll outline the symptoms of a loosened mucus plug and what to do when you lose your mucus plug. Finally, I’ll talk about when to see a doctor.

Mucus Plug vs. Discharge: What is the Difference?

The cervical canal connects the uterus and the vagina, both of which are parts of the reproductive system. 

During pregnancy, many changes happen in the body, one of which is an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge produced.

Another is the formation of a mucus plug at the entrance of the cervix.

Both vaginal discharge and the mucus plug help to prevent infections

Normal vaginal discharge, also known as leukorrhea, is clear or white and is usually odorless or may have a mild smell.

If the discharge is a different color, it may be a sign of an infection.

For example, thick white discharge could signify a yeast infection.

A doctor can prescribe medication for a yeast infection during pregnancy, which is important because an untreated yeast infection can be passed to the baby’s mouth during vaginal delivery, causing the baby to have oral thrush.

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What does mucus plug discharge look like?

The hormones progesterone and estrogen are responsible for the development of the mucus plug. The cervical wall produces mucus at the start of pregnancy.

This mucus accumulates to seal the entrance of the cervix. The amount of mucin present determines the elastic and viscous texture of the mucus plug.

The mucus plug can prevent virus and bacteria from traveling up from the vagina and from entering the uterus, which helps protect the baby. 

The mucus plug is thick, stringy, and jelly-like. It may have streaks of blood that look pink, red, or brown due to capillaries in the cervix that may rupture at the time of its release.

It does not have a foul smell.

When do you lose your mucus plug?

There is no specific time for you to lose your mucus plug. Usually it will dislodge close to the time of labor, around 37 weeks.

This typically happens before your water breaks, though you may experience amniotic fluid leaks even with your mucus plug intact.

If the mucus plug dislodges before 37 weeks, it may be a sign of preterm labor.

Some reasons for losing the mucus plug include:

  • Cervical dilation: The mucus plug releases when your cervix softens, thins, and dilates in preparation for delivery. That is your body clearing the way for your baby to pass through.
  • Cervical exam: During prenatal visits, you will get a pelvic examination among other tests like blood pressure and prenatal blood tests. The pelvic examination involves checking the pelvic organs, which include the cervix. The exam might trigger the cervix to release the mucus plug.
  • Sex: Sex is not dangerous during pregnancy, but in later stages of pregnancy, it can cause the mucus plug to detach from the cervical lining.

Losing your mucus plug should not be a cause of worry.

But if you lose it early in pregnancy, it may pose some risks to the baby, so talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

Mucus Plug vs. Bloody Show

A bloody show is different from losing the mucus plug even though they both have mucus in common. A mucus plug is mainly mucus, but may have tints of blood that may look pink, red, or brown.

Losing the mucus plug can happen right before labor, but may occur a few weeks before labor. A bloody show occurs when blood vessels in the cervix rupture due to the softening and opening of the cervix.

It is a mix of blood and mucus from the vagina. It happens at the end of a pregnancy, making it a helpful pre-labor sign. 

A bloody show is good news if it occurs close to your due date. Other labor signs like pelvic pressure, cramps, and contractions may follow.

At this point, contact your doctor or healthcare provider. In a few hours or days, you can expect to deliver your baby.

A bloody show should only produce a small amount of blood.

If you experience heavy bleeding, it may be a sign of a complication that requires immediate medical attention, such as placental abruption.

Symptoms of Lost Mucus Plug

A lost mucus plug is when the mucus plug is detached from the cervical lining. The symptom of a lost mucus plug is observing the mucus itself.

You may notice a glob of mucus in your underwear or when you wipe. 

Some pregnant people will not notice losing their mucus plug, especially if it happens slowly and in bits, which looks similar to normal vaginal discharge.

The mucus plug may also simply get washed away during a shower.

What to Do If You Lose Your Mucus Plug

Losing your mucus plug will happen eventually in every pregnancy. Your reaction will depend on your pregnancy timeline and other surrounding circumstances. 

While there is no specific timeline, it usually occurs during the 37th week. When it does, it is a sign that your body is preparing for labor, which might be a few days or weeks away. 

If you lose your mucus plug earlier, it may be a sign of pregnancy complications.

Reach out to your OBGYN or other healthcare provider immediately.

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When to See a Doctor 

During pregnancy, having a mucus plug discharge is entirely normal. Expelling it a few weeks, a few days, or on the day of labor is also a normal experience. 

However, if you lose your mucus plug earlier than 37 weeks, speak with a doctor, especially if you experience other symptoms such as: 

  • Light bleeding
  • Low and dull backache
  • A trickle of watery fluid 

These indicate preterm labor, and you may have to visit the hospital immediately to avoid further complications.

During pregnancy, it is generally advised to contact your doctor or healthcare provider if you observe unexpected changes.

It is better your doctor confirms it is a false alarm than for you to ignore a real one because you’re unsure.

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my discharge look like a mucus plug?
A mucus plug and discharge have some similarities, but they are not the same. There is a noticeable increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy, which is usually clear or white without a foul odor. On the other hand, a mucus plug is more sticky and jelly-like. While some people experience losing their mucus plug as a large clump, others lose theirs in bits, making it look like normal vaginal discharge.
What does slowly losing your mucus plug look like?
Slowly losing mucus plug will look like normal vaginal discharge. It will happen in bits. You may notice it on your underpants or panty liners, or you may not notice it at all.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.