Pregnancy is a remarkable journey filled with numerous physical changes and experiences, many of which may be unfamiliar to expectant moms. Two terms, which may cause some confusion that often surface during pregnancy are: bloody show and mucus plug. These terms can sound alarming, but they are natural processes that occur as a woman’s body prepares for labor and childbirth.
As scary as it sounds, a bloody show is a good, common sign of pre-labor. This little amount of blood mixing with the vaginal mucus plug is the clearest sign that your cervix is dilating and labor is not far away.
In this article, we will delve into the details of bloody show vs mucus plug including:
- What is a bloody show vs mucus plug?
- What do they mean for labor?
- What should you do?
Table of Contents
What is a “Bloody Show”?
The name may scare you, but do not worry! The bloody show is a typical sign of labor. This awful name is because the bloody show is a mix of blood (from the vessels of your cervix) and a little bit of mucus from the plug in your vagina.
As you may know, the cervix is a little tunnel that connects your uterus with your vagina. At the end of pregnancy, this tunnel has to grow to make room for your baby to pass. These changes, called dilatation, make the cervix softer and wider in preparation for labor. The vessels of your cervix are filled with blood and may break during dilation, losing a small amount of blood. And, because the mucus plug is still in your vagina -protecting the baby, the blood mixes with the mucus, and the bloody show appears.
This phenomenon typically happens in the days or weeks leading up to labor, though it can also be one of the early signs of labor itself. Bloody show is usually a pink or brownish discharge and may contain streaks of blood. It is a normal part of the labor and birth process, like other signs, such as pelvic pressure, cramping, and contractions.
What is the length of time between a bloody show and entering labor? Well, this will depend on the woman.
And the “Mucus Plug,” What is That?
In a few words, the mucus plug is a barrier that protects your baby, and this protection is fundamental for a healthy pregnancy.
The mucus plug, also known as the “cervical mucus plug” or simply the “plug,” is a thick, clear, jelly-like substance formed during early pregnancy. The function is to seal the cervix during pregnancy, keeping/inhibiting, not blocking, bacteria and other pathogens out of your uterus.
Some women lose their mucus plug during labor, others a few days before, and others may be lost gradually and never find out. But if you lose your mucus plug before the 37th week of pregnancy, you must call your doctor as a precaution.
What is the Difference Between a Bloody Show and a Mucus Plug?
While a bloody show and a mucus plug are related, they have meaningful differences. Timing, function, and appearance are three characteristics that will help you to differentiate from each other.
Timing is a critical characteristic between mucus plug and bloody show. The mucus plug is present throughout most of the pregnancy, beginning to form in the early weeks of gestation, while the bloody show appears in late pregnancy.
Another critical difference is the function. While the mucus plug protects the baby’s environment from pathogens, the bloody show has no role assigned, it is just blood from bleeding vessels during dilatation.
The appearance is another difference between a mucus plug and a bloody show. The first is typically clear or slightly cloudy, with a jelly-like consistency. It contains a small amount of mucus but is not associated with blood. And the bloody show is a pink, brown, or blood-tinged discharge. It gets its name from the streaks or spots of blood that mix with the mucus (from the mucus plug).
Both mucus plug and bloody show are related to labor. While the bloody show is a mix of blood and mucus that announces dilation began, mucus plug dislocation indicates that childbirth is close… But wait! This may be hours or days away yet.
How Much Blood is a Bloody Show, and How Much is Bleeding? Or are They the Same?
Bloody show is NOT a medical emergency! It is related to bleeding but is a different phenomenon. While a bloody show is a normal part of labor, heavy bleeding requires immediate medical attention to rule out serious issues.
The presence of blood in the discharge during a bloody show is minimal, typically streaked with small amounts of blood. This bloody discharge is a result of the cervix dilatation, causing tiny blood vessels in the cervix to rupture.
When we talk of bleeding during pregnancy, we refer to spotting or bleeding as signs of complications. If you are suffering from spotting or bleeding, you should call your doctor and be evaluated as soon as possible. It can be a sign of complications, depending on the stage of pregnancy, including placental problems, ectopic pregnancy, or miscarriage.
Are There Signs That a Bloody Show or Mucus Plug Dislocation Will Happen?
I have to say no! The explanation is both bloody show and mucus plug discharge are signs of changes in your cervix as your body prepares for labor.
As labor approaches, the cervix starts to dilate, it opens up. This dilation allows for the passage of the baby through the birth canal. The stretching and thinning of the cervix can cause the cervix’s tiny blood vessels to rupture, leading to the appearance of blood in the discharge, as little drops or dots in your underwear. Along with dilation, the cervix also undergoes effacement, a thinning-out process. As the cervix becomes thinner, the mucus plug that previously sealed it can be dislodged, mixing with small amounts of blood -of the small vessels -and leading to the bloody show.
With the bloody show and mucus plug dislodged, other signs of labor may appear:
- Increased Contractions: As labor time is closer, you may experience more powerful and frequent contractions. These contractions help thin and dilate the cervix -and may cause a bloody show, too.
- Lightening: When the baby’s head moves deeper into the pelvis into the birth position, put pressure on your cervix. It can start days or even weeks before labor begins. This additional pressure on your pelvis and cervix contributes to changes that lead to the bloody show.
- Loss of the mucus plug: Before or alongside the bloody show, you may notice a gradual loss of the mucus. It can happen days or weeks before labor begins.
While these signs can indicate that labor is approaching, it’s important to remember that every pregnancy is unique, and the timing of labor varies among each pregnant woman. If you suspect you are experiencing a bloody show or other signs of impending labor, contact your doctor for an evaluation.
What Do I Do When I Have a Bloody Show?
When you have a bloody show, it’s a sign that your body is preparing for labor. Here are some steps to consider:
Write down the color and the amount of blood, or take a picture of your underwear. Keep track of when you notice the bloody show and what you did before, like sex or any strenuous effort. This information can be helpful when discussing your progress with your healthcare provider.
I know that the appearance of blood can be unsettling, but remember that a bloody show is as typical as other parts of the labor process. Try to relax and pay attention to your body.
Call your doctor:
As normal as it is, if you are experiencing a bloody show, notify your doctor about it. He can guide whether you should come to the hospital or birthing center, especially if you are nearing your due date.
Listen to your body, and pay attention to any other signs of labor, such as contractions or your water breaking. If you experience regular contractions and increasingly painful or if your water breaks, contact your doctor immediately and follow his advice closely.
Stay hydrated and rest:
If you are entering labor, it’s crucial to stay hydrated and get rest. Early labor can be a lengthy process, and you’ll need your energy.
Finally, be prepared for labor:
Ask your partner or friend to prepare the hospital bag and take your birth plan. Breathe and enjoy this journey!
The road to the end of your pregnancy is coming, and a bloody show and a mucus plug discharge are natural signs of this. While a bloody show is associated with a small amount of blood, it is generally not a cause for alarm. However, it’s essential to differentiate between bloody show and heavy bleeding, so always contact your doctor to be safe. As with other aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, open communication with your doctor is essential to ensuring a safe and healthy delivery. Understanding the signs and being prepared can help ease the journey into labor and the exciting arrival of your baby.
Monica has a Ph.D. specializing in molecular and cell biology. with more than 10 years in reproductive medicine, she has now turned to medical and scientific communication through writing. She is passionate about scientific writing, and her goal is to turn the complex language of science into simple and relatable words.