This helpful primer about the bloody show can help you understand what’s happening inside your body as you prepare to go into labour and have your baby.

What Is the Bloody Show?

A bloody show is an indication that the cervix is starting to soften, thin, and dilate in preparation for labour.1 When the cervix dilates, its many sensitive blood vessels may rupture, causing a small amount of blood-tinged mucus, which is referred to as the bloody show.1,2 This blood is a normal sign that your cervix is changing in preparation for labour and delivery and is a common symptom of late pregnancy.

What are the Symptoms of a Bloody Show & What does it Look Like?

While the name derives from the outcome of small blood vessels in your cervix rupturing, you may experience some bloody discharge all at once, or gradually over time.1 In some cases, symptoms of labour may accompany the bloody show:1

  • Pelvic pressure may result from the baby dropping lower in your abdomen as you prepare to begin labour. This is called lightening.

  • Contractions may occur, and you may feel tightening sensations in your uterus.

  • Cramping may come and go over the course of hours or days. They may resemble the cramps you have during your period.

Not all women will experience these symptoms. And not all women will experience a bloody show in the same way. When the cervix thins and opens during the very early stages of labour, the mucus plug that has blocked the opening to the cervix will loosen and pass, along with a small amount of blood.2

The resulting discharge may be pink to light red.3 All or part of the mucus plug may be present, and the resulting discharge will have a stringy, jelly-like texture.1 It’s usually seen in your underwear or on toilet paper and may appear as one blob or small amounts.

The bloody show should not produce more than one or two tablespoons of discharge and is not an event that is associated with heavy or prolonged bleeding.1 Severe bleeding during any stage of pregnancy may be a sign of a complication and you should immediately contact your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing more blood loss.1,3

What’s the Difference Between a Mucus Plug and a Bloody Show?

A mucus plug is created by your body to block the opening of your cervix through the direction of your pregnancy and protect your growing baby from infection.1 As your body prepares for labour, your cervix will undergo some structural changes and expand and thin; this will cause the mucus plug to fall out. The bloody show is the slight amount of bleeding that occurs when the cervix thins and stretches.1 This blood is frequently mixed in with the cervical mucus.

An easy way to remember which event is which is by looking at the names. The mucus by itself is the mucus plug, and the blood by itself is the bloody show. Even though they may happen simultaneously, these are two separate events may indicate that your body is ready to go into labour soon.

Can Anything Else Cause a Bloody Show?

This is a natural and normal part of labour. As your cervix widens and thins in preparation of delivering a baby, some of its many blood vessels may rupture, which is the bloody show. However, there are other things that may trigger a bloody show, or cause your cervix to bleed:1

  • Membrane sweeping. During a membrane sweep, your healthcare provider will used gloved fingers to loosen the amniotic sac (baby’s bag of water) from the uterus to induce labour.

  • Sexual intercourse. In the last weeks of pregnancy, your cervix will thin and dilate. Some couples who have intercourse during pregnancy may find that doing so during this time can loosen the mucus plug or cause a bloody show.

  • Physical trauma. If you’ve fallen or been in an accident during your pregnancy, this could trigger bleeding or early labour. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if any kind of physical trauma occurs or if you are scared for the welfare of your baby.

If you experience vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy, you should contact your doctor to be safe. It can be a sign of a more serious complication.

The bloody show is an indication that your cervix is readying itself for labour. Understanding what is happening inside your body can bring peace of mind as you prepare to welcome your baby.