Most women hope to see a sign of impending labor but are freaked out by the idea of a bloody show.
Seeing blood during pregnancy is a little frightening.
Is it actually a sign of labor? Or is this what’s known as losing your mucus plug?
Do you need to get to the hospital pronto?
Here are 8 facts you need to know about the bloody show.
#1: What is a bloody show?
You might’ve heard the term ‘bloody show’ but not actually know what it means.
It’s the term used for bloody discharge that occurs in late pregnancy. A bloody show brings you a bit closer to meeting your little one.
You might’ve heard the terms ‘bloody show’ and ‘mucus plug’ as though they’re the same thing. Although they are closely related (a few streaks of blood, mucus, and discharge, coming out of the vagina), they’re two different events.
- Losing your mucus plug can happen over time. The mucus plug can also regenerate itself, so seeing some mucus isn’t necessarily a sign that labor will begin within the next few hours. When the mucus plug dislodges it begins to come away because the cervix is softening and thinning. You might see some blood in the mucus caused by tiny broken blood vessels, which gives it a pink tinge, but there might also be no blood. This happens as your body prepares. Sometimes this happens many days before the early stages of labor start
- A bloody show happens because the cervix is dilating. A dilating cervix is one of the first measurable events that happen when labor starts. The breaking of small blood vessels can occur. A bloody show commonly happens after losing the mucus plug. But labor can begin without any bloody show.
You can read more in Mucus Plug During Pregnancy – FAQs.
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#2: What causes the bloody show?
At the end of pregnancy, your cervix is going through some big changes.
This is in preparation for your baby’s birth.
The cervix is actually part of the uterus. During most of your pregnancy, your cervix is closed and hard.
This keeps the mucus plug in place, preventing bacteria from reaching your baby.
In the last month before birth, your cervix starts to soften and thin. This process is called ripening and usually takes place without you being aware of it.
As the cervix thins and ripens, it becomes more pliable and will shorten, or efface.
These changes allow the cervix eventually to dilate or open.
When the cervix begins to dilate, small capillary blood vessels burst. This causes some vaginal bleeding, which is a completely normal sign if it happens at term. This vaginal bleeding is usually mixed with vaginal discharge: the bloody show.
#3: What does a bloody show look like?
How a bloody show looks can depend on a number of things.
Most often the color is bright red, but it can range from brown to pink.
If your mucus plug has already come out, the bloody show might look like spotting or light bleeding.
Otherwise, a bloody show can be mixed with the mucus plug and appear as blood-tinged thick mucus discharge.
#4: Bloody show during pregnancy
In your last weeks of pregnancy, you might notice some very light spotting or bleeding.
This is usually not a cause for concern but you should discuss it with your care provider, especially if you feel unwell or have cramping, or if the blood loss is significant.
Bleeding earlier than 37 weeks can indicate premature labor or early pregnancy complications. Always seek immediate medical attention from your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about bleeding during pregnancy.
#5: Is the bloody show a sign of labor?
Although losing your mucus plug is a common enough sign you might go into labor soon, it can happen in other circumstances.
If you have your cervix checked and your care provider performs a cervical exam late in pregnancy, this can irritate the cervix and cause some bleeding.
Some care providers do cervical checks as a matter of routine during prenatal appointments in the last month.
You can read more about the necessity of this in Pelvic Exam During Pregnancy – Is It Really Necessary?
You are also likely to experience a bloody show following a ‘stretch and sweep’. This is when your care provider stretches the cervix and sweeps your membranes. A membrane sweep aims to suggest to your brain you’re entering labor. A membrane sweep is very uncomfortable; it might make you lose your mucus plug and give you some period-like cramps but fail to make labor start.
Some care providers do stretch and sweeps in the last few weeks leading up to your due date, even without your consent.
You should always be informed about this procedure before it is performed, as there are some risks involved.
Find out more in Membrane Sweep – 5 Things To Know Before Having One.
Pelvic pressure from sexual intercourse can also lead to you noticing some blood-tinged discharge. Although this sounds scary, some women bleed easily after sex in the last part of the third trimester of pregnancy. It is quite common and doesn’t really mean you or your baby have any serious health conditions. If you experience bloody discharge following sexual intercourse, wipe yourself with a wet wipe or toilet paper and put on a pad or panty liner to keep an eye on the discharge. The blood you discharge from friction during sex tends to have a stringy texture. It becomes darker and should recede with time.
#6: How long after the bloody show before you go into labor?
Since bloody show happens when your cervix is starting to dilate, it means your body is preparing for labor.
If you’re close to your due date and see bloody show, it’s a positive sign labor is on its way.
Every woman’s experience of labor starting is different. There is no guarantee labor will begin in the next 24 hours. It could still be several days in the future.
Some women don’t lose their mucus plug, or see a bloody show, until they are well into active labor.
First-time mamas are more likely to see a bloody show before labor begins, but this can happen a few days beforehand.
Women who have given birth before often don’t see any bloody show until their cervix is dilating; they would expect birth in the next 24 hours.
Often care providers want to check to see whether your cervix is dilating. Unless there is a medical reason for being concerned, you can choose to not have cervical checks during labor.
Read more in Are Cervical Checks During Labour Necessary?
#7: Bloody show during labor
In the first stage of labor, contractions act on the cervix to open or dilate it. As contractions increase in frequency and intensity, the cervix dilates more.
During the transition phase, which is the final phase of active labor, you might notice an increase in the bloody show.
This is because the cervix dilates the final few centimeters in a short period of time.
This is a sign you are very close to giving birth to your baby.
#8: What should I do if I have a bloody show?
If you’re not 37 weeks yet, and you notice vaginal bleeding – even if you’re not bleeding heavily and it’s just light spotting or blood-stained discharge – seek advice from your healthcare provider. It’s possible you’re going into labor prematurely.
If you’re close to your due date and are already past 37 weeks, then a bloody show is simply a sign your body is preparing to give birth.
Look for contractions, which you might experience as a low backache or even menstrual-like cramps. Don’t worry too much as labor will begin when your baby is ready. Focusing too much on contractions in the early stages could be a way of wasting much energy, which you’ll need when labor starts.
Many women wonder whether they should head off to the hospital immediately if they see a bloody show.
This isn’t necessary, unless there’s a more serious complication – for example, if you’re feeling unwell, you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, you can see heavy bleeding (which could mean a placental abruption) or you have any concerns at all about your baby’s wellbeing.
It could be some time before contractions become established and it’s usually recommended you stay at home when in early labor.
It’s a good sign labor is in the near future, though, so get everything prepared.
While you’re waiting, read Early Labour – 8 Tips For A Low Stress Early Labour At Home to give you a head start on cruising early labor at home.
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