What Is a Bloody Show?

Bloody show is thick vaginal discharge that contains mucus and blood from the cervix. It usually occurs in late pregnancy, as the body prepares for labor.

Vaginal discharge is a common occurrence during pregnancy. Fluctuations in hormone levels can cause changes in the consistency, amount, and appearance of vaginal discharge.

You should monitor your vaginal discharge throughout your pregnancy. This is especially important during the last few weeks before your due date. Not only is bloody show a normal part of pregnancy, but it is also an early sign of labor.

pregnant woman sitting on toilet

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Call Your Doctor

If you see the bloody show, call your doctor. They may want you to come into the office to have your cervix checked or to see if you’re going into labor.

Bloody Show Causes

During pregnancy, the cervix is covered by a thick plug of mucus that helps protect your baby. The mucus literally “plugs” your uterus. This prevents any bacteria or other sources of infection from getting past the cervical barrier.

As you get closer to labor, your cervix will begin to dilate open to make way for your baby to pass through. When the cervix opens, the mucus plug is released. As labor approaches, two main changes occur:

  • Effacement, which occurs when the lining of the cervix becomes softer and thinner
  • Dilation, which occurs when the opening to the cervix widens

The cervix is full of blood vessels, which makes it prone to bleeding. When blood from the cervix mixes with mucus, it leaves the body in the form of a bloody show.

Bloody show is a sign that the blood vessels in the cervix are rupturing as it effaces and dilates.

Bloody Show vs. Mucus Plug

Having a bloody show and losing the mucus plug are closely related events, but they are not the same thing:

  • The mucus plug is transparent and contains little or no blood.
  • Bloody show is a mixture of blood and mucus.

Signs of a Bloody Show

A bloody show is a discharge of mucus that's tinged pink or brown with blood. Unlike other types of bleeding, bloody show has a thick, gelatinous, and sometimes stringy texture. It can also appear translucent with very little blood.

People who have bloody show should closely monitor themselves for other symptoms of labor.

Other signs of labor include:

  • Pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
  • Constant, low, dull backache
  • Mild abdominal cramps, with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions or uterine tightening
  • Ruptured membranes (your water breaks—either a gush or a trickle)

How Long after a Bloody Show Does Labor Start?

Every pregnancy is unique, so it is difficult to say exactly when you will enter labor after a bloody show occurs. Some people may already be in labor when they spot it. But don’t worry if you never see the show—not every person will notice its appearance. 

Bleeding During Pregnancy

A bloody show is not a medical crisis but a regular occurrence at the end of pregnancy. But bleeding during pregnancy can be a source of concern for many people.

It is not uncommon to have spotting or light bleeding after sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam while pregnant. However, heavy bleeding can be a sign of a problem with the placenta.

When to Call a Doctor

If you experience heavy bleeding any time in pregnancy, contact your healthcare provider right away or go immediately to the hospital.

Several problems with the placenta later in pregnancy can cause bleeding, including:

  • Placental abruption: In placental abruption, the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus before or during birth. About one in 100 pregnant people will have placental abruption. The most common signs and symptoms are vaginal bleeding and abdominal or back pain. Placental abruption can cause serious complications if it is not found early. The fetus may not get enough oxygen, and the pregnant person can lose a large amount of blood.
  • Placenta previa: When the placenta lies low in the uterus, it may partly or completely cover the cervix. This is called placenta previa and happens in about one in 200 pregnancies. It may cause vaginal bleeding without pain. Some types of placenta previa resolve on their own by 32 to 35 weeks of pregnancy as the lower part of the uterus stretches and thins out. If placenta previa does not resolve, you may need to have the baby early by cesarean delivery.
  • Placenta accreta: When the placenta (or part of the placenta) invades and is inseparable from the uterine wall, it is called placenta accreta. Placenta accreta can cause bleeding during the third trimester and severe blood loss during delivery. Certain findings on an ultrasound during pregnancy can help to diagnose placenta accreta. If you have placenta accreta, you are at risk of life-threatening blood loss during delivery. Your healthcare provider will plan your delivery carefully and make sure that all needed resources are available. You may need to have your baby at a hospital that specializes in this complication. 

Bleeding Before 37 Weeks

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You notice any significant change in your vaginal discharge before 37 weeks.
  • Your discharge becomes bright red blood (instead of blood-streaked discharge).
  • You notice more pronounced bleeding.

A Word From Verywell

Bloody show is a normal part of pregnancy and a sign that the cervix is dilating and preparing for labor.

If you experience a bloody show, you should monitor yourself for other symptoms of labor, such as cramping, contractions, or your water breaking. However, every pregnancy is different, so it is tricky to estimate when labor will occur after bloody show happens.

If you notice vaginal bleeding long before your due date, contact your healthcare provider. Bleeding during pregnancy is not always a cause for concern, but it is still best to consult a professional if it occurs.

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Article Sources
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  1. James P. Nott, Elizabeth A. Bonney, James D. Pickering, Nigel A.B. Simpson. The structure and function of the cervix during pregnancy. Translational Research in Anatomy. 2016;2:1-7. doi:10.1016/j.tria.2016.02.001

  2. MedlinePlus. Vaginal bleeding in pregnancy. Updated April 2, 2021.

  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Bleeding during pregnancy. Updated September 2019.

  4. MedlinePlus. Placental abruption. Updated April 2, 2021.

  5. March of Dimes. Placenta previa. Updated January 2013.