If you’re having some light pink spotting you may wonder what’s going on. For much of your early pregnancy, bleeding was a bad sign, but now that you’re past 37 weeks a small amount of blood can be a good sign of labor (or at least something happening down there). So, let’s talk about what it COULD be and what you should do once you notice it!
But first, how do I know all of this? That’s a great question, because bleeding isn’t something to mess around with. Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have seen thousands of patients concerned about their bleeding as well as watching very closely bleeding from early labor through delivery — so I’m a good one to chat about this subject with you.
If you’re around 38 weeks you may be thinking it’s too late to get a prenatal class in but it’s NOT! This class only takes about 3 hours and really boils things downs and makes them SIMPLE to understand. Thousands of couples of have loved how it prepared them for birth!
This (or any article on The Pregnancy Nurse) should be taken as medical advice, this purely educational. Please talk with your provider about your specific needs and circumstances, in no way does this article replace medical advice.
Remember, this article is aimed at people in late pregnancy, if you’re in your first, second or even the beginning of your third trimester you need to take bleeding seriously and call your provider. It is NOT a good sign if your cervix starts to open at that point. It’s very different than the end of pregnancy.
Also please be mindful of anything your provider has told you previously. If you have any placental pregnancy complication like placenta previa you need to call them or head to the hospital with ANY sign of bleeding. Things are just different for you. Also if you’ve had anything like a recent car accident or high blood pressure it would mean you need to call your provider or head to the hospital as well.
Light pink spotting at 38 weeks pregnant – What’s it mean?
Most often if it’s just spotting (I think of that as just covering the surface of the pad and less than a dime in size — just to be specific about what I consider spotting) it isn’t something to worry about and it could be a sign that labor is coming. It can also be a sign that you’ve had penetrative sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam — as both of those can cause a bit of bleeding due to the increased blood flow to that area towards the end of pregnancy.
But, there’s more to this story, so let’s dive in….
Why Light Pink?
It’s hard to say (as everyone’s “light pink” is a little bit different) but vaginal discharge during pregnancy comes in a few forms:
- Bright red — normally this is “fresh” blood that is coming out and is more of a sign of something (and for most of your pregnancy this wasn’t a great sign as you don’t want to actively bleed during pregnancy).
- Dark Red/Brown — this is most often old blood that has just chosen to leak out now.
- Mucus — It could be your mucus plug, or sometimes it’s thinner and it’s just extra secretions to prep that birth canal for baby
- Mucus plug — This is normally thicker in form and we’ll talk more about it further in the article
- Watery — this could mean your water is broken (or could be a very thin mucus) – if you think your amniotic sac IS broken you need to call your provider.
- White — this can be a sign of one of the vaginal infections (like bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection), so if you see it (especially if you have other symptoms like itching or pain) you should talk with your provider.
It’s not unusual for all of these different amounts of discharge to be mixed (sometimes creating pink discharge or mucus with streaks of blood in it).
If I had to GUESS I’d think that it’s a bit of bright red bleeding, tinged with some mucus — causing the pink. It could also be mixed with a white discharge. That’s my guess.
However, bleeding can be a sign of labor and often they call it “bloody show” (although in the hospital we tend to think of it as more than just light pink spotting — but it could just be the start of it).
Pro Tip: Remember that 40 weeks is just a guess. Most often labor begins at 38-42 weeks. So you’re right in that part of pregnancy where you’re looking for the end of it! At 38 weeks you’re no longer considered preterm labor.
If you’re thinking 🤢 right now (you’re not alone). But try to shift your mind from GROSS, to like a detective looking for clues as to what’s happening with your body. But don’t get me wrong — I’m 🤢 too by it (when it’s my body).
Also, if you’re JUST interested in the signs of labor — this class might be a perfect fit instead.
What is the bloody show?
The bloody show is a small amount of blood that is released from the vagina and cervix as your body prepares to go into labor (and possibly as your cervix is dilating). I tend to think of it as the cervix is softening (the cervix goes from like a hard rubber to more of a soft cheese consistency prior to going into active labor). When it does, it sometimes bleeds a bit as the tissues change and those blood vessels leak a bit.
Pro Tip: The cervix is just the lower part of the uterus — so it’s working together WITH your uterus to get ready for the big labor event!
Most often bloody show happens when the cervix has begun to thin and dilate, which is a sign that labor MAY soon begin. Generally, the amount of blood released during the bloody show is minor and should not be cause for alarm. If you’re having active bleeding you need to call your doctor. Be sure to ask your doctor what amount of bleeding is OK for you and when you should get in touch with them.
Even though it has a scary name, It’s simply a sign that your body is getting ready for childbirth and it may happen several hours or days before labor actually begins. It’s just a sign. So take it as that. And you shouldn’t be shocked — you’re 38 weeks and baby will likely be here in the next 1-3 weeks!
Which is why you need to take a prenatal class, obviously. 🙂
Pro Tip: If you’ve had a membrane sweep (also called stripping your membranes) some light spotting isn’t unusual either, but I hope your provider told you that when they did it. 🤞
What does the bloody show look like?
It can vary in it’s coloring. Sometimes it’s bright red mixed with a darker red, and often some mucus. It isn’t the same woman-to woman. the main concern is the amount of bleeding at this point in pregnancy.
Some women need to go to the hospital ASAP if they have bleeding, but these women normally have placental issues diagnosed via ultrasound.
If you’re bothered by any of the amount of bleeding that you’re having you should call your provider.
I will also say that it’s not unusual that the more “into” labor you get the bleeding to increase a bit as well. If you’re ever concerned and can’t get hold of your provider, remember that your labor and delivery unit is open all day and all night every day of the year (aka, always open).
Pro Tip: If it’s a LOT of bleeding you need to call your provider, possibly as you head into the hospital. This could be an issue with your placenta, possibly a placental abruption which you’ll want medical care for. If it’s a LOT of heavy bleeding I’d encourage you to call 911 (especially if you also feel faint along with it) — that could be a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. It’s not a bad idea for one of you to call 911 and one of you to call your provider at the same time if that is possible.
How long after experiencing bloody show will you go into labor?
It’s hard to say because “bloody show” means something different to everyone. But, it does show that your cervix and birth canal are getting ready for baby to come as you get closer to your due date, and that sometimes causes some bloody discharge
You’re going to want to look for the other signs of labor, like contractions, cramping, losing your mucus plug, and more to know if labor is REALLY coming.
In general, one “sign” alone isn’t enough to think THIS IS LABOR!!!! Or, LABOR IS COMING! They tend to come as a group.
What Should You Do After Bloody Show?
Just keep a watchful eye on it. You can likely resume normal activities. If you think labor is starting I recommend movement that you can tolerate. Do you want to go on a run — no. But you also don’t want to just curl up on the couch and stay there for hours on end.
And, if it’s during office hours you could always call your doctor and see what they recommend or if they want to see you really quick in the office
Pro tip: It is WAY easier to be seen by your doctor or midwife in the office than it is to see a provider at the hospital. So, any time I can NOT go to L&D and instead go to my healthcare provider’s office, I do so.
What is a mucus plug?
The mucous plug is sort of the “cork” that your body creates to stop up your cervix while you are pregnant. It helps keep out harmful bacteria from the baby.
In essence, it’s just a bunch of things that are “normally” in your vaginal that get sucked up into the cervical opening to cover it — so, it mostly consists of:
- Skin cells
And yes, that is as gross as it sounds.
By the time your mucus plug comes out the blood is very dark brown. Most often this is more chunky than it is thinner mucus.
In here we have a whole chapter on all these signs of labor (that seem weird). I go into detail on what to expect with each one and what they all are (there’s more than just discharge).
Does everyone lose the mucus plug?
Nope. Or, maybe not everyone notices it.
And losing your mucus plug is not a “prequisite to labor” like some people think.
Sometimes it comes out all at once, and sometimes it comes out piece by piece. And yes, I’m getting sick writing this. Mucus is NOT my thing and I actually gagged when I saw my own in the toilet with the one baby I noticed losing it on. All of that is just a normal part of pregnancy (if not also gross).
Some people may notice it when they wipe with toilet paper, and some people it just drops in the toilet, so if they didn’t check they wouldn’t see it.
And yes, it’s odd that I don’t get grossed out when I see it in patients, but I do feel 🤢 about it with my own body. Right?
What’s the difference between the bloody show and mucus plug?
In general bloody show is more red, and thinner vs the mucus plug which is thicker and the blood is darker brown.
Does losing my mucus plug mean I’m about to go into labor?
In a word, no.
Once again it’s just one of those signs. Remember they come in a group when labor is really here. One or two might visit now and then, but you’ll likely see a few labor signs happening all at once when it’s really happening. You need to know all those signs from someone with experience like in here.
Most often it DOES mean that your cervx is dilating, or at least changing enough to where that “cork” coudn’t defy gravity anymore and fell out (think of it as an upside down bottle of wine where the lip of bottle is somehow opening up a bit).
Fun fact: I’ve had moms bring in their mucus plug in a tupperware container, or show me pictures on their phone. No need for that. 🙂
What Is Normal Pregnancy Discharge?
It really varies, and it really varies ESPECIALLY at the end of your pregnancy. I’d recommend waring a pad or a panty liner to feel more comfortable those last few weeks of pregnancy. Again, it’s all of that area just prepping itself for birth. It’s a good thing (even if it’s annoying). And the amount of discharge may increase as you head towards full term.
Pro Tip: Not a horrible idea to keep some towels at your office, or in the car and make sure that you have a waterproof mattress pad on your bed — just in case your water breaks. It will make clean-up a LOT easier (but remember water breaking spontaneously only happens in about 15% of people — I have a whole post on the signs your water might break).
When should I call my healthcare provider?
You’re always welcome to reach out to your provider whenever you think it’s necessary. But light bleeding, especially after a vaginal exam or sex normally aren’t things to be concerned about. If you FEEL concerned though, give them a call. If you’re feeling OK and you have a regular appointment soon you can always discuss it with them at that time.
Of course, you should keep an watchful eye on it though.
And with that I think we’ve pretty thoroughly covered it, and gave you some good tips on what to watch for and do if you have some light bleeding late in pregnancy.
Of course, the BEST thing to do is to take a prenatal class. Did you know that people who take a prenatal class are 10% less likely to have a c-section? It’s crazy, but it actually makes sense when you think about it. Better prepared, more able to communicate. It’s a win-win! Come join me inside!
Or, if you JUST want to know about the signs of labor, join me in here.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice.
She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.