Isn’t it strange how pregnancy turns us into creatures obsessed with our bodily fluids?
If you’re trying to conceive, for example, you first start monitoring your mucus. Then, there’s the pee-on-a-stick pregnancy test, followed by the unpleasant pregnancy discharge over the next nine months.
Finally, for the grand finale, a constant watch for the two fluids that signify the end of pregnancy: your water breaking and the infamous bloody show.
There’s a lot of confusion about the bloody show. I have good news and bad news: The bloody show is a sign that your body is getting ready to have a baby. But it’s not necessarily going to be as fast as you might hope.
Here’s what you need to know about the bloody show.
The bloody show refers to vaginal discharge that occurs at the end of your pregnancy. It’s a sign that your mucus plug has loosened or already has been dislodged.
During pregnancy, the cervix is covered by a thick plug of mucus that helps protect the baby. The mucus literally “plugs” your uterus. This prevents any bacteria or other sources of infection from getting past the cervical barrier.
As your pregnancy comes to a close, 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. Check out this chart on cervix dilation.
You might lose your mucus plug entirely. Or, it can be lost in small amounts. If this is the case, you might not even notice it. Discharge can also increase at the end of pregnancy, and the mucus plug can be a part of that.
During my time as a hospital labor and delivery nurse, some of the most common phone calls we answered were about the mucus plug.
Women wondered if losing it meant they needed to come in right away. They also wanted to know what to do with it. One woman even brought hers to the hospital in a plastic baggie. I can assure you — this is very unnecessary.
Your cervix is highly vascular, meaning it’s full of blood vessels. Therefore, it can bleed easily. When the cervix starts to open and the mucus plug dislodges, some of the blood vessels in your cervix will rupture and bleed. This is what you see with the bloody show.
It’s part (or all) of the mucus plug mixing with a small amount of blood from your cervix’s blood vessels.
The bloody show isn’t always a dramatic affair. It can actually be very slight blood-tinged discharge. It can be so slight that you might not even notice it. In general though, it will be a very small amount, and shouldn’t require you to wear a pad or panty liner.
Don’t assume that just any sign of bleeding is the bloody show. If you’ve been checked in the doctor’s office recently to see how dilated you are, it’s normal to bleed slightly afterwards. Again, this is because the cervix bleeds easily.
But if you’re bleeding heavily or seeing signs of blood long before your due date, check in with your doctor right away.
Here’s some good news: The bloody show is a sign that labor is impending. Losing your mucus plug, which is often accompanied or followed by the bloody show, usually happens right before labor starts or several days before.
I had my bloody show about a week before labor started for each of my four pregnancies, so it definitely wasn’t a rush-to-the-hospital occurrence. Some women don’t have a bloody show until they’re actually laboring. Everyone is different.
But when you’re grasping for any hope to keep going at the end of pregnancy, it’s helpful to know that the bloody show is a sign that things are moving along.
If you’re near your due date and you notice some increased discharge tinged with blood, get ready. It’s almost baby time! After that, we can all get back to our normal, non-bodily-fluids-obsessed selves.
That is… until the baby comes. Then we can obsess all over again.
Chaunie Brusie, BSN, is a registered nurse with experience in labor and delivery, critical care, and long-term care nursing. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four young children, and is the author of the book “Tiny Blue Lines.”