Ovulation bleeding: What’s the deal?

If you’re experiencing ovulation bleeding or any spotting or bleeding between your periods, you might be wondering what’s going on. A Flo expert explains why it happens and when to see a doctor.

Any bleeding between your periods can come as a surprise, especially if it hasn’t happened before. The truth is that spotting can be caused by lots of things — including fibroids or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) — which is why it’s a good idea to get checked out by your doctor. But did you know that ovulation can also be a trigger?

Ovulation is the point in your cycle when one of your ovaries releases an egg in the hope it will be fertilized by a sperm and you will become pregnant. This happens around halfway through your cycle. So this means that if you have an average 28-day cycle, it will probably happen around day 14.

“About 5% of people with periods experience bleeding around ovulation,” explains Flo expert Dr. Allison Rodgers, reproductive endocrinologist, obstetrician, and gynecologist, Fertility Centers of Illinois, US. So if you do experience ovulation bleeding, what exactly is going on? We’ve got the lowdown here.

Key takeaways

  • Ovulation bleeding is caused by hormonal changes. 
  • This kind of bleeding is much lighter than a period and only lasts for a day or two.
  • There are lots of other reasons why you might be experiencing bleeding between your periods, from pregnancy to fibroids, so it’s always worth speaking to your doctor to figure out what’s going on. 

What is ovulation bleeding?

As you’ve probably figured out, ovulation bleeding takes place during ovulation. But what’s the link between ovulation and bleeding? 

It’s all due to hormonal changes. “When you ovulate, your estrogen levels drop, and your progesterone levels start to rise,” explains Dr. Rodgers. “This rapid hormonal change can cause the lining of the uterus to become unstable and bleed.”

Alongside this bleeding, you might also experience ovulation pain. This might feel like a mild twinge or a more severe cramping that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a whole day or two.

This might sound scary, but it’s a completely normal part of the process, and you’re in good company: Around four in 10 women and people with periods experience this pain. That doesn’t make it any less annoying, though. 

The good news is that taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or trying a soothing hot water bottle or relaxing bath could help.

What does ovulation bleeding look like?

The most important thing to know about ovulation bleeding is that it will be very light. “It is not heavy like a period, but often a spot or two of pink on the tissue when you wipe,” explains Dr. Rodgers. “It’s very minimal.” 

If you experience very heavy bleeding and need to change your pad or tampon within two hours, then it’s a good idea to get checked out by your health care provider. They can run some tests and make sure that everything’s OK.

How long does ovulation bleeding last?

Spotting during ovulation is also short-lived. “It typically only lasts a day or two and is more of spotting than actual full-flow bleeding,” says Dr. Rodgers. “Usually, it starts on the day of ovulation or a day or two after.”

Ovulation bleeding or your period: How to tell the difference

Seeing blood in your underwear or when you wipe can be super confusing if you aren’t expecting your period. Has your period decided to show up early, or is it just ovulation bleeding?

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to figure out the cause. The first step is to determine where you are in your cycle. For instance, we know that ovulation bleeding will happen around the middle of your cycle when your ovary releases an egg. But your period usually arrives at the start of your cycle and is usually predictable, give or take a day or two.

Regular cycles last from 21 to 35 days, and tracking your period using an app like Flo can help you figure out where you currently are in your cycle. Our period calculator can also help you estimate when your next period might arrive.

The second way to make sense of what’s going on is by monitoring your flow. “Periods are heavier, typically last three to eight days, and have more full-flow bleeding,” explains Dr. Rodgers. 

So, if the bleeding is very light, lasts just a few days, and happens around the middle of your cycle, it’s more likely to be ovulation bleeding than your period.

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Is it possible to get pregnant while bleeding during ovulation?

Absolutely. In fact, if you’re experiencing light bleeding or spotting or any of the other signs of ovulation (such as slippery, wet discharge or sore boobs) around the time you’d expect to ovulate, then you’ve ovulated. This means your egg has been released from your ovary, ready to be fertilized by a sperm. 

However, there are some instances where you might experience bleeding between periods that aren’t due to ovulation. Let’s look at them in more detail.
Causes of bleeding between periods

Besides ovulation bleeding, there are lots of other reasons why you might experience bleeding between your periods. Here are some examples.

Ovulation disorders

Sometimes, you might experience a problem with ovulation that can cause irregular bleeding, such as bleeding between your periods. One example of this is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is a common hormonal disorder affecting between eight and 13 in every 100 reproductive women and people with periods. If you’re diagnosed with it, it means you’re producing higher amounts of “male” hormones called androgens. 

Some of the key signs of PCOS are having problems with ovulation and experiencing anovulatory cycles (when you don’t ovulate), which can cause irregular bleeding. 

The good news is that there are medications available to help ease the symptoms of PCOS, so reach out to your doctor to discuss which option could be best for you.

Fibroids and polyps

Fibroids are noncancerous growths of the smooth muscle of the uterus. That might sound scary, but they’re extremely common — in fact, as many as 70% of women will have one at some point in their lifetime. 

The good news is that they don’t tend to cause any symptoms, but when they do, you might experience bleeding between periods. They can also cause heavy periods, pain in your abdomen, lower back, and pelvis, and constipation. 

Uterine polyps are another type of growth that can develop in your uterus. Like fibroids, they might not cause any symptoms. But when they do, they can cause irregular cycles and bleeding between periods. 

If you’re experiencing these symptoms and think you might have a fibroid or polyp, be sure to book an appointment with your doctor.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, where, sadly, it won’t be able to survive. As an ectopic pregnancy will always end in pregnancy loss, it can be an incredibly difficult thing to experience.

One of the first symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy is light vaginal bleeding, as well as pelvic pain. If you get these symptoms, it’s important to call your doctor right away because ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening to the mother. 

If you are diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, remember to be kind to yourself and to lean on your loved ones for all the support you need. This can be a heartbreaking time, so take all the time and space you need to recover.

Other causes of bleeding between periods:

  • Ovarian cysts 
  • Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia
  • Endometriosis

Remember, if you’re experiencing bleeding between your periods and you’re not sure what’s going on, always reach out to your health care provider. They’ll be able to give you tailored advice on what could be causing the bleeding.

When to speak to your doctor

If you’ve noticed spotting during ovulation or any unusual bleeding between periods, it’s always worth speaking to your doctor to see what’s going on. They can check you over and run any tests and hopefully put your mind at ease.

But there are also a few instances where bleeding between periods needs urgent care. “If the bleeding is heavy and filling a pad per hour, this is an emergency, and you should seek medical care,” says Dr. Rodgers. 

“Similarly, if it lasts more than a day or two and is very painful, then you should see a doctor.” This can be scary, but rest assured that your doctor will be able to give you the best possible advice on next steps and help you figure out what’s going on.

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