Most mamas freak out a little (or a lot!) if they see bloody mucus during pregnancy. Is it an early sign of labor? Or is it that thing called the mucus plug? Or maybe it’s just another weird pregnancy side effect?

While bloody discharge during pregnancy can signal danger, it doesn’t always mean something bad. For instance, bloody show towards the very end of pregnancy is perfectly normal. And if you think bloody show is just that weird mucus plug thing, think again.

Read on for what bloody show really is, how it’s different from other labor signs, and what it may mean for you.

What Does Bloody Show Look Like?

Bloody Show photo pregnancy labor Mama Natural

Bloody show is a slang term that describes bleeding during the very end of pregnancy. It can range in color from brown, to pink, to bright red, depending on what’s going on in your body. (Bright red is the most common.)

It’s normal to have some bloody discharge following a vaginal exam or sex with your partner, but if the blood loss happens on its own during the very end of pregnancy, then it might just be the bloody show.

Mucus Plug vs. Bloody Show

Bloody show vs mucus plug: what’s the difference between mucus plug and bloody show?

Many websites and books lump the terms bloody show and mucus plug together, even though they’re actually two different things.

  • When you lose your mucus plug—the first line of protection between the outside world and your baby—there can be some light blood loss, as the capillaries in the cervix sometimes bleed a little as the mucus plug loosens and comes out of the vagina. There may also be no blood, so losing the mucous plug doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see blood.
  • Bloody show occurs as the cervix dilates and softens, bursting the capillaries, often after losing the mucus plug. However, labor can begin and the cervix can dilate with no noticeable blood loss.

Both the mucus plug and bloody show are early signs of labor, but they’re two separate events. Here’s more information on the mucus plug.

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What Causes Bloody Show?

The cervix is undergoing some major changes at the end of pregnancy in preparation for baby’s arrival. While the hormone progesterone begins the initial softening of the cervix at conception, at the 32-week mark this process really kicks things up a notch.

The cervical ripening is accelerated, and the cervix becomes thin, stretched, and more pliable. Pro-inflammatory agents ripen the cervix, and it often becomes a bluish-purple color. The cervix will also begin to shorten in what’s known as effacement as it changes shape.

Even though it’s going through some pretty drastic changes, the cervix will remain closed until it begins dilating for active labor. Your body continues to keep this barrier in place to protect your baby from the outside environment until she’s ready to meet the world.

How Long After Bloody Show Does Labor Start?

Since true bloody show happens when your cervix is softening and ripening in preparation for baby’s arrival, it means that your body is preparing itself for labor. Each woman is different though, and there is no definitive order of events. Labor can come within the next 24 hours, or it could be several days away.

Some women don’t lose their mucus plug until active labor has begun and never get labor signs like bloody show. How many kids you have makes a difference, too. First-time mamas are more likely to have bloody show before labor starts, so a few days before the actual event. Whereas mamas who have been around the block usually don’t have bloody show until the cervix is actively dilating for labor, and should expect to give birth within 24 hours in most cases. (source)

Bloody Show During Labor

Once labor has already started and contractions are increasing in frequency and intensity, the cervix continues to dilate. The cervix ripens even more during the second phase of labor, which can cause a bloody discharge. This is an encouraging sign, as it means that you’re making progress.

What Should I Do if I Have Bloody Show?

  • Monitor the duration and frequency of contractions (if any) to see if it’s an early sign of labor.
  • If it’s bright red and in the first or second trimester, contact your doctor or midwife, since it could be signs of an issue or premature labor.

When Should I Be Worried?

Slight spotting or bleeding in the last trimester is common, and it’s not a cause for concern—unless it’s bright red and there is a significant amount, like more than a tablespoon.

Bleeding earlier than the last few weeks of pregnancy can indicate signs of premature labor. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, contact your doctor or midwife.

Real Stories About the Bloody Show

I asked the moms on my Facebook page when they saw bloody show and how soon after that labor started for them. Here are some of their responses:

  • I noticed a little bloody show around 7 a.m. on a Wednesday morning (not sure how long it had been there), and my sweet babe was born at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night. – Kelsey H.
  • I lost part of my plug about a week before (just mucus). I lost the rest of my plug and had bloody show about 3 hours before my contractions started. I had my daughter 14 hours later. – Becky P.
  • I had contractions starting at 3 a.m. and saw the bloody show at 4 p.m. My son was born at 4:06 a.m. the next morning. – Randi A.
  • I went into slow labor Monday, had my bloody show Tuesday, and gave birth Thursday morning. – Liz O.
  • I had bloody show at the start of labor, 14 hours before birth. – Jennisue C.
  • I didn’t have one until I was in transition. I thought it was my water breaking, and it was a show. Baby was born 20 minutes later. – Paige F.
  • I had show for 2 or 3 weeks prior to the birth of my baby. – Juliana T.
  • I never had any of it with my twins. I was confused when my water started to break (just trickled), and then contractions started a few hours later. Had no show! –Kelsey W.
  • Never lost my mucous plug or bloody show with my first two (that I noticed). With my last, I slowly lost my mucous plug over three weeks. I had bloody show Thursday evening, then early labor Friday afternoon (dilated me a full centimeter and effaced another 10%), active labor started Saturday evening. – Celesa W.J.