Bloody Show

Overview

What is a bloody show?

A bloody show is a common symptom during late pregnancy when a small amount of blood and mucus is released from the vagina. A bloody show occurs because the cervix starts to soften and thin (efface) and widen (dilate) in preparation for labor.

When your cervix dilates, it's making room for your baby to pass through. Because it's filled with blood vessels, it can bleed easily when dilation occurs. What you see in a bloody show is blood from your cervix, mixed with mucus from the mucus plug.

It sounds scary, but a bloody show is a very normal sign that your cervix is changing in preparation for labor. The length of time between having a bloody show and entering labor can vary between women.

What does a bloody show look like?

A bloody show will look different for everyone. The blood can be red, brown or pink and can contain all or parts of the mucus plug. It will be a jelly-like, stringy texture. Some bloody shows are more mucus-like with streaks of blood. Some women lose the mucus plug all at once. In some cases, a bloody show will happen gradually.

How much blood is in a bloody show?

The bloody show should not produce more than a tablespoon or two of discharge. Severe bleeding at any time can be a sign of a complication. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience heavy bleeding during pregnancy.

What is the difference between a bloody show and a mucus plug?

A bloody show and a mucus plug are closely related. The mucus plug blocks the opening of the cervix during pregnancy to protect the baby from bacteria. As your body prepares for labor, the cervix dilates (expands). This causes the mucus plug to dislodge. When blood from your cervix is mixed in with the mucus plug, it is called a bloody show.

What does a bloody show mean?

A bloody show usually means labor is coming soon. Some women experience a bloody show weeks before labor and others don't have a bloody show until they are in labor. It’s a good indication that your body is getting ready and your baby is in the final stages of development.

How long does a bloody show last?

The amount of time the bloody show lasts will vary. It's usually seen in your underwear or on toilet paper. Some women will see the bloody show in one blob while others may notice it gradually.

Possible Causes

What are the causes of a bloody show?

A bloody show occurs as a natural progression of labor. Your cervix goes through big changes to prepare for delivery. As your cervix begins to open, the blood vessels of the cervix rupture — this is the bloody show.

A bloody show can also be triggered by:

  • Sexual intercourse: Your cervix thins and dilates in the last weeks of pregnancy. Having sex can loosen the mucus plug or cause light bleeding.
  • Membrane sweeping: Your healthcare provider may sweep your membranes while checking your cervix for dilation. They will use gloved fingers to loosen the baby’s bag of water (amniotic sac) from your uterus. This is done to encourage labor but can also cause some bleeding.
  • Trauma: Falling or being in a car accident could cause your body to go into labor or bleed. If you have experienced any trauma, call your healthcare provider or go to a hospital to get checked.

Women who notice vaginal bleeding should contact their healthcare provider to be safe. Bleeding during pregnancy can be normal, but it can also be a sign of a more serious complication.

What are the signs of a bloody show?

The biggest sign that the bloody show has occurred is you may notice a bloody mucus discharge from your vagina. In some cases, there are no signs.

Some women experience other symptoms of labor with a bloody show:

  • Cramping: You may feel period-like cramps that come and go over the course of hours or even days.
  • Pelvic pressure: As the baby drops down from your abdomen, you may experience pressure in your pelvis (referred to as lightening), vagina or back.
  • Contractions: You may feel tightening in your uterus that increases in duration and intensity.

These signs are good indications that your cervix is dilating to prepare for labor.

Is a bloody show a sign of labor?

A bloody show is a sign that labor is coming. There is not an exact timing as to how long after a bloody show labor will occur. This varies from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy.

Can you get a bloody show after a cervical exam?

If your healthcare provider does a cervical exam (cervix check), it’s normal for spotting (or light bleeding) to occur. After 37 weeks of pregnancy, your healthcare provider may ask if you would like your cervix checked. They are checking the dilation and effacement (thinning) of your cervix. This could irritate your cervix and cause it to bleed, but it's not necessarily the bloody show.

Will doing a membrane sweep cause a bloody show?

A sweeping of your membranes can cause a bloody show. If successful, the membrane sweep will trigger your cervix to dilate. This could cause a bloody show. It could also be blood caused by the cervix becoming irritated. Membrane sweeping is a practice that varies amongst healthcare providers and is not always performed.

Is cramping a side effect of a bloody show?

Yes, some cramping can occur when you have a bloody show. Your cervix is opening, softening and expanding in preparation for birth. This can cause period-like cramping or aches. You may also feel a cramping pressure in your pelvis as the baby descends. These are common side effects of the bloody show because they are all signs labor is coming.

Will I know when I have a bloody show?

It varies. You may not be aware that your bloody show has occurred. In some cases, the discharge is so light and gradual it's virtually undetected. You might also have a blood-tinged glob all at once and know it's a bloody show. It’s best to contact your healthcare provider if you believe your bloody show has occurred.

Care and Treatment

How is a bloody show diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may ask you the color, consistency and amount of discharge. These details can help determine if you’ve had a bloody show. Since it's a normal progression in pregnancy, there is not a treatment.

What do I do when I have a bloody show?

You should write down or take a picture of the discharge. Note the color, consistency and amount. Your healthcare provider will be able to determine if this was a bloody show. They may also want to check your cervix for dilation. It's also a good time to monitor yourself for other signs of labor.

How long after a bloody show will labor start?

Every pregnancy is different, so it's difficult to say when labor will start after the bloody show happens. The bloody show means your cervix is dilating in preparation for labor. Labor can come within the next few hours, or it could still be days away.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor after a bloody show?

It's best to contact your healthcare provider if you think you have experienced a bloody show. Spotting or light bleeding in pregnancy can be common. Severe bleeding or bleeding earlier than the last few weeks of pregnancy can be signs of premature labor or other complications.

Does a bloody show mean it’s time to go to the hospital?

A bloody show means your cervix is preparing for labor. For some women, labor begins shortly after the bloody show, but for others it could still be several days away. If you are unsure if you are experiencing a bloody show or think you are in the early stages of labor, contact your healthcare provider.

When is it bad to have a bloody show?

A bloody show is usually not a concern if it happens after 37 weeks of pregnancy. Some light bleeding can be a normal part of pregnancy. Bleeding heavily or uncontrollably could indicate a more serious complication. If you have bloody discharge, you should contact your healthcare provider to be sure.

A note from Cleveland Clinic:

It's normal to feel excited and nervous about labor and delivery. Discussing the signs and symptoms with your healthcare provider can help you know what to expect. Don't hesitate to voice your concerns about any vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/06/2021.

References

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. . Accessed 6/23/2021How to Tell When Labor Begins (https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/labor-delivery-and-postpartum-care/how-to-tell-when-labor-begins)
  • Merck Manual. . Accessed 6/23/2021Vaginal Bleeding During Late Pregnancy (http://via.ccf.org/health-library/article/merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/symptoms-during-pregnancy/vaginal-bleeding-during-late-pregnancy)
  • American Pregnancy Association. . Accessed 6/23/2021.Signs of Labor (https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/labor-and-birth/signs-of-labor-771/)
  • Becher N, Adams Waldorf K, Hein M, Uldbjerg N. The cervical mucus plug: structured review of the literature. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2009;88(5):502-513. Accessed 6/23/2021.
  • Nott, James P, et al. The structure and function of the cervix during pregnancy. Translational Research in Anatomy. Volume 2, 2016. Pages 1-7. Accessed 6/23/2021.

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