What to Know About the Bloody Show During Pregnancy

The bloody show is a pregnancy symptom that happens when your body prepares for labor. We turned to experts to learn more about the signs and why it happens.

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It's late in your pregnancy, and you notice some blood on your underwear. You may wonder—could this be your "bloody show?" It's normal to be unsure about what the bloody show looks like, and whether the bloody show could mean that labor is coming soon.

We caught up with experts to help us understand the bloody show a little better, including what it is, what causes it, the signs and symptoms, how to distinguish the bloody show from your mucus plug, and what it can tell you about labor progression.

Key Takeaway

The "bloody show" refers to a collection of blood and mucus that might be noticeable toward the end your third trimester. It can look like spotting or the light onset of a period, and it may come in small or moderate amounts. For those who experience this symptom, it's often a sign that labor is near, but be sure to check with a health care provider before snatching your hospital bag.

What Is the Bloody Show in Pregnancy?

"Bloody show" is the term used for the normal collection of blood and mucus that some pregnant people see toward the end of the third trimester as the cervix begins to dilate. "The cervix is highly vascular, and when it opens, there can be a bit of bleeding and mucus, particularly for first-time parents," explains Kristin Mallon, C.N.M., R.N., certified nurse-midwife and co-founder and CEO at FemGevity. "This dilation or opening tends to happen toward the end of pregnancy as the body preps for labor."

Omoikhefe Akhigbe, M.D., an OB-GYN at Pediatrix Medical Group in Silver Spring, Maryland, says that bloody show usually means that changes are happening in your cervix due to your upcoming labor.

What Does Bloody Show Look Like?

How can you tell that what you're experiencing is the bloody show? "The bloody show may be dark brown or bright red, and may come in small amounts when you wipe, or even moderate amounts requiring a pantyliner or pad," describes Dr. Akhigbe. It can look like spotting or the light onset of a period.

How Long After Bloody Show Does Labor Start?

As for the timing of labor in relation to the bloody show, it really varies, explains Anisha Farishta, M.D., an OB-GYN at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital. "It is often a sign that labor is imminent, but it can also happen a few days before labor begins," she adds.

In essence, your bloody show is one of several signs that your body is gearing up for labor. The timing of early labor varies from one person to another, as do symptoms. Early labor is usually the longest stage, and can last for several days before more active labor begins.

Besides bloody show, other early labor signs include:

  • "Lightening crotch," or small shooting pains in your groin area. This happens when your baby drops deeper in your pelvis, usually causing less pressure on your diaphragm
  • Loss of the mucus plug
  • Contractions, which are usually irregular at this stage
  • Water breaking

Bloody Show vs. Mucus Plug: What's the Difference?

The mucus plug and the bloody show are related, but different. The mucus plug is a thick glob of mucus that's positioned at your cervix for most of your pregnancy. When the cervix begins the dilation process, some of that mucus may be expelled, and you may notice some discharge. This mucus may look white, clear, pinkish, or a little bloody.

Both the mucus plug and bloody show occur when the cervix begins to dilate, says Mallon. Sometimes the bloody show will occur in tandem with the loss of the mucus plug, and so it can be hard to differentiate between the two. In other cases, people may only experience a bloody show, which will often look like the beginning of a menstrual period, describes Mallon. "It often is not associated with pain or contractions yet, but can also happen after contractions have already started," she adds.

Should I Go to the Hospital After the Bloody Show?

The bloody show can be a sign of early labor, and many parents wonder what their next step should be after they see it. But if you experience a bloody show, it doesn't necessarily mean that you need to grab your hospital bag and get in the car that second, says Dr. Farishta. That said, it's still a good idea to give a health care provider a call.

"In general, if you experience bloody show along with strong, regular contractions, you may want to contact your health care provider or head to the hospital to be evaluated," she advises. If your contractions are mild and irregular, you will usually be advised to wait at home until they become stronger and more regular, says Dr. Farishta.

Is It Bloody Show or Light Bleeding?

If you're experiencing some light bleeding at the end of pregnancy, you may want to know whether it's the bloody show or some other type of bleeding. Unfortunately, it's not possible to know for sure what you're experiencing, says Dr. Akhigbe.

"There's no way for a patient to tell on their own if the bleeding is a bloody show or light bleeding for another reason," she says. And while the bloody show is sometimes linked with other signs of early labor like mild contractions, some people have the bloody show without any pain or contractions, says Dr. Akhigbe.

"Intercourse, polyps, and placental abnormalities can also cause bleeding," she explains, adding that sometimes there's no identified cause at all. Of course, if you have questions, you should always reach out to an OB-GYN or health care professional.

Is Bleeding During Late Pregnancy Ever a Cause for Concern?

Light bleeding, bleeding with mucus, or the typical bloody show aren't usually indicative of anything serious, although any new symptoms should be shared promptly with a health care provider. In rare circumstances, bleeding in late pregnancy can indicate more serious conditions such as placental abruption (when the placenta detaches from the uterus before delivery) or placenta previa (when the placenta blocks the cervix either partially or completely). When you share your bleeding symptoms with a provider, they will be able to tell if you're experiencing a condition like bloody show or something more serious.

Does Everyone Experience a Bloody Show?

If it's the end of your pregnancy and you haven't had a bloody show, don't worry! Not everyone experiences this symptom. "The timing and intensity of bloody shows can vary widely between pregnant people and even between pregnancies," explains Dr. Farishta. "Some people may experience a bloody show several days or even weeks before labor begins, while others may not experience it at all."

What's most important is to be in touch with a health care provider if you have any questions or concerns, about bloody show or any other early labor signs. All pregnancies are different, and yours will be unique at every stage of the way.

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  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How to Tell When Labor Begins.

  2. National Institute of Health. Early Signs of Labor.

  3. ACOG. What Does It Mean to Lose Your Mucus Plug?

  4. American Pregnancy Association. Placental Abruption.

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