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What is Bloody Show?

Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 07, 2022

Bloody show is a normal sign that your body is preparing for labor. It’s a discharge of blood and mucus from your vagina. It indicates that your cervix is starting to open.

What Does Bloody Show Look Like?

Bloody show looks different for everyone. It may have all or parts of your mucus plug. Some women’s bloody shows may look more like mucus with a few streaks of blood.

Bloody show may be:

  • Brown
  • Pink 
  • Clear
  • Slightly bloody

But it shouldn’t have more than one or two tablespoons of discharge. You shouldn’t need to wear a pad or panty liner. If you have heavy bleeding during your pregnancy, contact your healthcare provider.

What’s the Difference Between Bloody Show and the Mucus Plug?

The mucus plug is a thick clump of mucus that forms at your cervix during pregnancy. It acts as a barrier between your vagina and your uterus, where your baby is. The mucus plug prevents sources of infections and bacteria from reaching your baby.

Several days before labor or at the start of labor, your cervix begins to open. The mucus plug is then discharged into your vagina.

Bloody show and losing your mucus plug are slightly different, but closely related. Mucus plug discharge is a collection of mucus. It looks jelly-like and stringy.

Bloody show results from the rupturing of blood vessels in your cervix. When this blood mixes with some of the mucus from your mucus plug, it's called bloody show.

What Are Signs of Bloody Show?

The main sign of bloody show is discharge from your vagina. 

Along with bloody show, some women may begin to have symptoms of labor, such as:

  • Pelvic pressure. You may feel pressure or a heavy feeling in your back, pelvis, or vagina.
  • Period-like cramps that come and go. This may be over hours or a few days.
  • Contractions.

How Long Does Bloody Show Last?

This varies from woman to woman. Some women may notice the bloody show gradually, while others may see it all in one clump. You may see it on your underwear or when wiping with toilet paper after using the bathroom.

What Should You Do After Bloody Show?

Bloody show before labor is a normal part of pregnancy, so there’s no need for treatment. It’s a sign that your body is getting ready for labor. But you don’t need to go into the hospital immediately after your bloody show, as labor may still be days or even weeks away.

You may want to take note of the consistency, color, and amount of discharge. Your doctor will then be able to tell you if it was bloody show.

You may also want to start watching for other signs of labor. These include:

  • Contractions, which may feel like severe period pains
  • Backache or a heavy, aching feeling in your back
  • A need to go to the toilet
  • A gush of fluid or slow trickle that might mean your waters have broken 

There’s no fixed amount of time between bloody show and the start of labor. For some women, their bloody show may happen some weeks before labor actually begins. For others, the discharge may be so light and gradual that it goes unnoticed. 

If you think you have had bloody show, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider to find out what you should do next. 

What Are the Causes of Bloody Show?

Bloody show happens when your body is getting ready to go into labor. Your cervix starts to thin, soften, and stretch open (dilate) to make room for your baby to pass through.

Your cervix is full of small blood vessels. This means that it can bleed easily. At the start of labor, your cervix dilates and thins (effaces). This causes the blood vessels to tear and bleed.

Bloody show can be caused by:

  • Sexual intercourse. In the last weeks of pregnancy, your cervix thins and widens. Having sex during this time may cause light bleeding or loosen your mucus plug.
  • Trauma. If you’re in a car accident or have a bad fall, this may cause bleeding or labor. Call your doctor or go to a hospital if you’re pregnant and experience trauma.  
  • Membrane sweeping. This is when your doctor uses a gloved finger to loosen the amniotic sac from your uterus. This action is done to encourage your body to begin labor. If a membrane sweep is successful, your cervix may begin to dilate. This may cause bloody show. But the blood may also be due to irritation of your cervix.   

It’s normal to have some spotting or light bleeding if you have a cervical exam after 37 weeks of pregnancy. During this exam, your doctor checks the thinning and dilation of your cervix. This may irritate your cervix and cause some bleeding. But this bleeding is not necessarily bloody show.

Vaginal bleeding can happen throughout pregnancy for a variety of reasons. During early pregnancy, bleeding is common, and in many cases is not a sign of a major problem. But it also could be due to a more serious complication.

During late pregnancy, less common but more serious causes of bleeding include:

  • Placenta previa, where your placenta is attached to the lower part of your uterus instead of the upper part. This may mean that your placenta blocks your cervix. Sometimes bleeding can happen without warning. 
  • Placental abruption, or the early detachment of your placenta from your uterus 
  • Vasa previa. In this complication, the blood vessels that provide blood to your baby grow across your cervix. When labor begins, these blood vessels may tear and stop providing blood to your baby.
  • Uterus rupture. This may be due to surgery, infection, or a severe injury to your abdomen. 

If you have vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “What does it mean to lose your mucus plug?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Bloody Show,” “Mucus Plug.”

familydoctor.org: “How Do I Know I’m in Labor?”

Merck Manual: “Vaginal Bleeding During Late Pregnancy.”

NHS: “Signs that labour has begun."

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