Ovulation bleeding is 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.
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 and when should you call a doctor?
This article explains what ovulation spotting is, how to tell which type of bleeding you’re dealing with, and what to do if bleeding between periods worries you.
For the purpose of this article, "female" refers to people with vaginas irrespective of the gender or genders they identify with. The gender terms used in this article reflect those used in the referenced source.
What Does Ovulation Bleeding Look Like?
Ovulation bleeding tends to look like a few drops of blood on toilet paper or your underwear. In some people, there might only be reddish or pinkish drops caused when blood mixes with cervical fluids (which increases and thickens during ovulation).
Ovulation bleeding coincides with ovulation, which can occur anywhere from 13 to 20 days into the menstrual cycle.
Ovulation lasts about 12 to 48 hours per cycle. It is within this general timeframe that ovulation bleeding occurs. Women with ovulation bleeding rarely experience more than one or two days of spotting.
Ovulation bleeding can occur on its own or be accompanied by other symptoms of ovulation such as bloating or mild pelvic pain.
Why Does Ovulation Bleeding Occur?
Ovulation bleeding occurs during sudden fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during ovulation.
Before ovulation, estrogen levels steadily increase along with the growth of the follicle that contains the maturing egg. After ovulation, estrogen levels quickly drop, while progesterone levels steadily increase to prepare the lining of the uterus for implantation.
The sudden fluctuation in estrogen and progesterone can cause bleeding. This typically occurs when the ratio of progesterone-to-estrogen is high. In absence of estrogen, the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) can develop little ulcers that bleed.
Research suggests that females with excessively high progesterone and excessively low estrogen levels after ovulation are more likely to experience spotting.
Ovulation bleeding is generally not a cause of concern. It tends to occur only once each cycle and may be the only symptom.
How Much Bleeding Is Normal During Ovulation?
Ovulation bleeding tends to be light. It may only involve a few drops of blood on your underwear. Even so, some people may be concerned if they experience bleeding of any sort between periods, particularly if it's the first time.
Fortunately, there are ways to tell if spotting is due to ovulation rather than some other cause.
How Can I Tell It’s Ovulation Bleeding?
Besides the timing of the spotting in your cycle, ovulation bleeding can be recognized by its relatively short duration and other symptoms that can occur during ovulation, such as:
- Slightcrampingor pain on one side of the pelvis, referred to as mittelschmerz (German for "middle pain")
- Breast tenderness
- Abdominal bloating
- Increased sex drive
- A heightened sense of smell, taste, or vision
- A thickened "egg white" consistency of cervical mucus
- Increased body temperature at rest (basal body temperature)
What’s the Difference Between Ovulation Bleeding and a Period?
There are four ways to tell the difference between a period and ovulation bleeding:
- The timing of bleeding: With a period, the menstrual flow might occurevery 21 to 35 days in your cycle, while ovulation bleeding can occur 13 to 20 days in your cycle.
- The duration of bleeding: With a period, the bleeding might last two to seven days, while ovulation bleeding lasts one to two days at most.
- The amount of bleeding: With a period, the amount of blood is usually between two and three tablespoons (enough to cover a panty liner), while ovulation bleeding only causes mild spotting.
- The accompanying symptoms: With a period, the symptoms tend to be more overt and may include abdominal cramping, lower back pain, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, joint and muscle pain, and trouble sleeping. These are not common with ovulation bleeding.
Other Reasons for Spotting
There are other possible causes for mid-cycle spotting, some of which are not serious and others that are potentially life-threatening.
These include conditions like:
- Pregnancy: Bleeding or spotting might occur anytime from implantation through birth.
- Hormonal contraceptives: Birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause spotting and bleeding, especially when first starting.
- Ovarian cysts: These are fluid-filled sacs that develop in or on an ovary.
- Uterine fibroids: These are benign (non-cancerous) growths made up of uterine muscles.
- Uterine polyps: This is the overgrowth of the endometrial tissues.
- Perimenopause: This is the transitional period to menopause, during which irregular periods and spotting are common.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and pelvic inflammatory disease (typically caused by an STI) can lead to spotting and bleeding.
- Endometriosis: This is the often-painful overgrowth of the endometrium outside of the uterus.
- Ectopic pregnancy: This is a potentially deadly condition in which a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus
- Gynecological cancers: Uterine, cervical, vaginal, and ovarian cancer can all cause abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Does Spotting During Ovulation Mean Pregnancy?
Spotting during ovulation does not mean you are pregnant. Ovulation occurs earlier in your cycle, usually around day 14. Implantation happens toward the end of your cycle, between days 20 to 24.
Implantation bleeding can take place when an egg is fertilized and attaches to the uterine wall. Some women experience spotting or light bleeding when this happens. For some, it can be an early sign of pregnancy.
Implantation happens at the end of your cycle just before your period starts. If you notice spotting a few days before your period, go ahead and take a pregnancy test.
If you’re trying to conceive (or want to avoid becoming pregnant), ovulation bleeding can serve as an indication you’ve entered your fertility window. With that said, other symptoms of ovulation are far more reliable indicators, including an increase in your basal body temperature or changes in the consistency of your cervical fluids.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
If you are unsure if you're experiencing ovulation bleeding or something more serious, call your healthcare provider and describe the nature of the bleeding and any other symptoms you may have.
As a rule of thumb, you should see your obstetrician if you experience:
- Spotting multiple times in your cycle outside of your period
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding after menopause
- Particularly heavy or long periods
In the meantime, keep track of your symptoms with a calendar or ovulation app. The more information your obstetrician has, the sooner they can diagnose your condition and offer a treatment plan.
Call your doctor if your bleeding requires you to change your tampon or pad after less than two hours or if you pass clots the size of a quarter or larger. This is especially true if you feel faint or lightheaded, which could be a sign of anemia.
Menorrhagia Symptoms and Causes
Spotting during ovulation is not common, but it also isn't cause for concern. Ovulation bleeding happens when you ovulate—usually around the 14th day of your cycle. It tends to last for one to two days and shouldn't be heavy. The blood is often light pink or red in color.
Spotting during ovulation is not a sign of pregnancy, but there are other reasons why you may be spotting between periods. Some can be serious. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any other unusual symptoms in addition to spotting, such as pain or dizziness.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lauren Krouse
Lauren Krouse is a journalist especially interested in covering women’s health, mental health, and social determinants of health.Her work appears in Women's Health, Prevention, and Self, among other publications.
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Ovulation spotting is light vaginal bleeding that can occur during, before, or after ovulation. Not every woman has spotting during ovulation, but one study indicates that five percent of women experience mid-cycle spotting. Ovulation bleeding occurs when there is a change in hormone levels.Is bleeding during ovulation a problem? ›
For some people, ovulation bleeding is normal, and they notice it every month as their hormone levels change. As long as there are no other concerning symptoms, the ovulation bleeding will be nothing to worry about. Others will never notice any ovulation bleeding and spotting, and that's normal for them.How much volume is ovulation bleeding? ›
It lasts for about a day or two, tends to be watery, and amounts to less than one tablespoon. You may also experience other symptoms like increased libido or cramping.