What to Know About the Bloody Show During Pregnancy

Sure, it sounds scary, but don’t freak out! Here’s what the experts say about what the bloody show is, when it appears and what it looks like.
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Updated September 7, 2021
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Image: Daria Riabova

Now that you’re well into your pregnancy, you’re probably spending a solid chunk of time researching the major signs that you’re about to go into labor. And, at some point, you’ve probably come across the term “bloody show.” It may sound like the latest Quentin Tarantino movie, but the bloody show is really just nature’s way of telling you that things are kicking into gear.

Suffice to say, it’s harmless. But the less-than-benign name may still stir some feelings of apprehension. Fortunately, learning about the bloody show during pregnancy can help to ease any lingering anxiety. So what is the bloody show and what does it look like? We’re sharing the facts (including how long after the bloody show labor may start). Here’s what you can expect.

What Is Bloody Show?

The good news? It’s not as gory as it sounds. So what is bloody show and how can you recognize it? The bloody show happens when your body is preparing to go into labor. And, yes, as the phrase implies, it involves the appearance of blood. Right before the big event, your cervix (the lower narrow portion of your uterus) begins to expand or dilate to allow baby to eventually fit through it. Because the cervix is a blood-rich organ, it can bleed easily, explains women’s health expert Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. That means that when you start to dilate, you may end up seeing a bloody show, which is essentially blood from your cervix mixed in with mucus. So, yup, there’s actual blood in the bloody show.

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What Does the Bloody Show Look Like?

The bloody show is pretty much what it sounds like: a bloody mucus that can be seen coming out of the vagina when you’re either about to go into labor or are having some pretty significant cervical changes, says Michael Cackovic, MD, a maternal-fetal specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. You may experience some red, pink or brown discharge, or notice that the mucus plug is streaked with blood.

The bloody show can appear in your underwear, or you might see it when you wipe. However, it shouldn’t be much more than a tablespoon or two of discharge, says the Cleveland Clinic. If you’re experiencing regular or excessive bleeding, contact your doctor right away.

Bloody show vs. mucus plug

All these new labor and delivery terms may have your head spinning. So what’s the difference between the bloody show vs. mucus plug? The bloody show actually isn’t all that different from the mucus plug, which is a plug made up of mucus that blocks the cervical canal and prevents bacteria and germs from entering the uterus when you’re pregnant. When you’re in early labor, the mucus plug is released from your cervix and makes its way out of your body. “It can be seen as a thick, sticky discharge on your underwear or toilet paper,” Ross says. Sometimes the bloody show is mixed in with the mucus plug.

How Long After Bloody Show Does Labor Start?

The answer varies greatly, given that every woman is different. The bloody show can appear within minutes or up to days before labor starts, Ross says. Some women are actually already in labor when they spot it. But don’t worry if you never see the show—not every woman will notice its appearance. There isn’t always a set road map or time frame for when you pass your bloody show and labor begins, Ross says. “Labor may not start for days or weeks,” she explains, “so don’t get your hopes up too high!”

How long does the bloody show last?

Usually, you’ll experience your bloody show after a big cervical change as your cervix starts to dilate during labor, Cackovic says. You may notice it, wipe it away and move on with getting ready to welcome your new bundle of joy. But, Cackovic adds, it’s possible for your bloody show to seep out slowly over time.

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, Ross says.

If you notice a bit of blood here and there as you approach labor and delivery, you may be wondering: Can the bloody show happen more than once? Again, every woman is different. You may notice it all at once, or it could occur gradually over the course of a few days as your cervix changes.

It’s also not uncommon to see red or brown discharge throughout your pregnancy. Some minor spotting can happen after a cervix exam or sex, and it can easily be mistaken for the bloody show—especially if you’re nearing the big day. Of course, if you’re experiencing significant bleeding, contact your doctor.

Signs of Bloody Show

Given that the show involves blood coming out of your vagina—a very freaky concept when you’re pregnant—it’s understandable that you’d want a heads-up first. You won’t always get one, but there are a few possible signs of bloody show to look out for:

Contractions. Obviously, contractions are often a sign that you’re in labor, but they can also be a signal that your cervix is dilating—and that can tip you off that you might see a bloody show soon, Ross says.

Cramping. You don’t necessarily need to experience full-blown contractions when your cervix is dilating. Cramping is generally associated with the bloody show, although it’s possible to have cramps the day before you actually see the show, Cackovic says.

Reddish mucus. The biggest sign of bloody show is of course actually seeing the bloody show. It can be bright red, dark brown and even look like streaky mucus, Cackovic says.

Sex After Bloody Show

If you’ve had your bloody show, you’re probably starting to go through the paces of labor, and chances are you won’t be feeling like having sex. But if you do happen to find yourself in the mood, it’s likely safe to have sex after you’ve had your cervix checked by your doctor, Ross says. “If your cervix is dilated, you may not be allowed to [have sex],” she says. You’re more likely to break the bag of water surrounding baby or introduce unwanted bacteria near the amniotic sac, which can lead to an infection inside your uterus, she explains.

When to Call Your Doctor

Ultimately, if you have questions about the bloody show or if you’re not sure if you just experienced it, talk to your doctor. As Cackovic says, “Any kind of bleeding in pregnancy should prompt a call to your doctor.”

That said, the bloody show is a normal sign your body is gearing up for labor, so if you see a few streaks, don’t be alarmed. Of course, you should reach out to your doctor if you’re experiencing strong contractions at regular intervals or if your water breaks.

Pregnancy is full of all sorts of surprises. You may spot the bloody show soon before you labor (or not). Either way, it’s no big deal—the bloody show must go on, and the grand finale is coming soon.

About the experts: Michael Cackovic, MD, is a maternal-fetal specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. He received his medical degree from MCP Hahnemann University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sherry Ross, MD, is an ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. She earned her medical degree from New York Medical College.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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