What Is Ovulation Bleeding?

Spotting in the Middle of Your Menstrual Cycle

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Ovulation bleeding, also known as ovulation spotting, is just what it sounds like: light vaginal bleeding that happens when you ovulate. Ovulation occurs when you release an egg from your ovary in the middle of your menstrual cycle. 

While there are many potential reasons for bleeding in between periods, this one doesn’t seem to be all that common. In fact, one 2012 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that only about 2.8% of healthy young women experience bleeding at this point in their cycle—and it only lasts around one day.

However, more research is needed on people who may have irregular periods, other health conditions, or breakthrough bleeding while on birth control

Uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix

Tharakorn / iStock / Getty Images

Although spotting during ovulation typically isn’t cause for concern, unexpected bleeding at any time can be worrisome. So how do you know when you’re dealing with normal ovulation bleeding versus something else, and when should you call a doctor? 

Read on to learn more, including why you may be prone to ovulation spotting, how to tell what type of bleeding you’re dealing with, and what to do next. 

Causes

If you’ve noticed that you bleed a little mid-cycle, your hormones may be to blame. Research suggests that people who have higher levels of estrogen, progesterone, and luteinizing hormone (LH) around the time they ovulate seem to be more likely to experience spotting.

Timing

Ovulation bleeding can happen when your body releases an egg anywhere from 13 to 20 days into your menstrual cycle (if you’re new to tracking your cycles, the first day of your period marks the beginning of each cycle). 

Of course our bodies don’t always operate on set calendars. Exactly when you ovulate can vary by a couple of days from cycle to cycle.

Signs

Ovulation spotting tends to look like a few drops of blood on toilet paper or your underwear and can show up for about one to two days. Because it’s often mixed with cervical fluid (which increases during ovulation), it could appear light pink or red in color. 

If you’re trying to conceive or want to avoid becoming pregnant, this could serve as an indicator that you’ve entered your fertility window.

But since ovulation bleeding is pretty uncommon, other symptoms of ovulation could be more reliable such as a change in your basal body temperature (it declines slightly then sharply rises after ovulation) or the consistency of your cervical fluid (which should resemble egg whites around this time).

Other Reasons for Spotting 

Another type of spotting you may have heard of is implantation bleeding, which happens when a fertilized egg attaches to your uterus or womb. While this doesn’t always happen, for some people it’s one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. So it helps to know the difference between the two. 

Here, timing is key. Implantation bleeding tends to occur around when you expect your next period. Like ovulation bleeding, it’s usually much lighter and shorter than bleeding during a period.

Beyond ovulation and implantation, unexpected bleeding between periods can happen for a slew of different reasons. These may include: 

  • Hormonal changes due to puberty or perimenopause
  • Endometriosis
  • Ovarian cysts 
  • Fibroids or polyps 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Bleeding disorders 
  • Trauma
  • Cigarette smoking
  • An infection such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Problems with birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • In rare cases, uterine, cervical, or ovarian cancer

Coping 

Because it can be difficult to tell the difference between ovulation bleeding and other reasons for spotting, call a healthcare professional if you’ve noticed unexpected bleeding between periods. 

In particular, spotting other than during your period, bleeding after sex, bleeding after menopause, or particularly heavy or long periods is your cue to schedule an appointment to get checked out.

In the meantime, start tracking your symptoms with a calendar or ovulation app. With some questions, a pelvic exam, and in some cases imaging or additional tests, your obstetric care professional should be able to determine what’s at the root of your irregular bleeding and provide a treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

For some people, a little ovulation bleeding is a normal part of the menstrual cycle thanks to shifting hormones and the release of an egg from your ovary. But if you’re experiencing spotting between periods without a clear explanation, reach out to a healthcare professional to talk it out as soon as you can.

While some spotting can be nothing to worry about, it’s best to be sure for your peace of mind and well-being.

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  1. Dasharathy SS, Mumford SL, Pollack AZ, et al. Menstrual bleeding patterns among regularly menstruating womenAmerican Journal of Epidemiology. 2012;175(6):536-545. doi:10.1093/aje/kwr356

  2. Office on Women's Health. Trying to conceive. Updated June 6, 2018.

  3. Office on Women's Health. Period problems. Updated March 16, 2018.

  4. Wehn, D. Bleeding between periods? How to tell if it’s a problem. Cleveland Clinic. Updated April 9, 2019.

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Abnormal uterine bleeding. Updated January 2020.