Medically reviewed by Michelle Nau, BSN
I had no clue that there could be a difference between bloody show and mucus plug when I was pregnant.
Unfortunately, this is one of those topics surrounding pregnancy that can be hard to approach. We aren’t talking about the pretty glowing face or the nicely rounded belly of a pregnant woman.
We are talking about blood. And mucus. But hey–it’s natural, right? Although it’s perfectly normal and natural, it’s not a topic that comes up in dinner conversation (for MOST people!)
I had read a lot about losing my mucus plug, but I just sort of assumed that losing your mucus plug and bloody show were the same thing. Turns out, there can be a bit of a difference.
What’s the difference between bloody show and mucus plug?
These two words are often used interchangeably, but it’s not always accurate to do so.
If you see a lot of blood when you lose your mucus plug, you are experiencing bloody show and losing your mucus plug at the same time. Not everyone sees a lot of bleeding when they lose their mucus plug. Sometimes it’s just mucus.
We will dissect this more below.
Related: How to Mentally Prepare for Labor
In the video below, Dr. Green talks to us about signs of soft labor and the difference between bloody show and mucus plug
What is bloody show?
Bloody show is a pretty dramatic term. It is a passage of a small amount of blood (or some blood-tinged mucus) through your vagina near the end of pregnancy. That’s it.
According to the text Maternal Child Nursing Care, the appearance of bloody show happens when your cervix shows progressive changes such as softening, effacement, and dilation (2017).
According to Merck Manual, these progressive changes cause the veins in the area break which cause the bloody discharge.
Some doulas believe that a more dramatic bloody show means a faster onset of labor, so it’s definitely not a bad thing to see – although too MUCH blood can be a bad thing.
Related: Third Trimester Checklist
Why and when does bloody show occur?
The bloody show can occur for a few reasons.
The most common reason for bloody show is that your cervix has started to soften. Which (like we already said) causes the tiny capillaries in the area to break, which leads to the bloody discharge you can see.
Bloody show is also seen with losing your mucus plug, which is also due to the changes in your cervix toward the end of pregnancy.
You can also see bloody show after a vaginal exam from your doctor, or sex with your partner.
Bloody show typically happens at the end of the third trimester, and can often signify that your body is getting ready to go into labor.
When should I worry about bloody show?
It can be difficult to know when to worry about vaginal bleeding during late pregnancy. The safest bet will always be to consult your doctor.
The most common cause of bleeding is your cervix softening, and the loss of your mucus plug. You can read more concerning issues that can cause bleeding in late pregnancy, or we have summarized them for you below.
Placenta Abruption is a premature separation of a normally implanted placenta from the uterine wall before delivery. This can decrease or completely block your baby’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. Only about 1% of women suffer from this [source].
Vasa Previa, which is a condition in which fetal blood vessels cross or run near the internal opening of the uterus, which increases the risk of rupture of these blood vessels.
Because of the small fetal blood volume, a small amount of blood loss could potentially mean fetal death. This only happens in about 1 of 2500 births [source].
Placenta Praevia which means ‘low-lying placenta’ is just that. Your placenta is sitting at the bottom of the womb near your cervix. Sometimes it CAN block the cervix (your baby’s way out) which is where it can turn into a problem. This is only seen in 1 out of 200 pregnant women [source].
Side note–Notice how UNCOMMON all of the following conditions above are. Definitely try not to psyche yourself out because chances are, your littles will probably be fine.
I am one of those moms that is very good at worrying about everything–I get that.
Related: Strange But Normal Newborn Habits
What is the mucus plug?
Your mucus plug is just that–a plug made of mucus. It acts as a barrier between your unborn baby and the outside world. It helps keep unwanted bacteria, as well as other sources of infection from traveling into your uterus.
The neat thing about your mucus plug is that your body will keep producing mucus FOR the mucus plug.
What does the mucus plug look like?
The color of your mucus plug can vary a bit, but in general it just looks like a lot of mucus. I remember losing my mucus plug with my first daughter, and it looked like clear discharge–just a lot more of it.
For some women the mucus is clear, others may see streaks of blood, while other women see a LOT of blood. When you see blood during losing your mucus plug, there is no difference between bloody show and mucus plug.
What happens when you lose your mucus plug?
Many women believe the common misconception that losing your mucus plug is a sign that your baby is almost here. It’s “common knowledge” that these two things go hand in hand–and it usually takes a little digging to figure out otherwise.
You can lose your mucus plug right before labor, or sometimes up to two weeks before labor begins.
Interestingly, the mucus plug can grow back if you lose it too early, so you shouldn’t worry too much if you think you may have lost it. Mention it to your doctor, and recognize it as a potential soft sign of labor.
How soon after losing your mucus plug does labor start?
It can be difficult to say when labor will start after you have lost your mucus plug. For some women it’s a few hours, others it’s a few weeks.
Although losing your mucus plug is a sign of cervical dilation, it does not necessarily signify that you need to get to that hospital RIGHT NOW.
Is it safe to have sex after losing your mucus plug?
According to Robert Wool from the Bump, sexual intercourse is USUALLY safe after the mucus plug has been lost. There is at least one big exception.
If you have tested positive for Group B Strep, the risk of infection is greater once the mucus plug falls out. It will be safer to consult with your doctor first, and especially so if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
Did you know there could be a difference between bloody show and mucus plug? I would love to hear about your experience with soft labor symptoms in the comment section below!
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Perry, S. E., Hockenberry, M. J., Lowdermilk, D. L., Wilson, D., Alden, K. R., & Cashion, M. C. (2017). Maternal child nursing care. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby.