What is ovulation bleeding and why does it happen?

Let's talk all things ovulation spotting, so you can you feel informed and in control.
Written by
Deirdre Fidge
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Last updated on
May 16, 2024
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What Is Ovulation Bleeding? Here's Why It Happens | Kin Fertility
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If you have a vagina, chances are you've experienced bleeding. In fact, it's estimated the average woman in Australia will experience around 450-500 periods in her lifetime [1].

As you might know though, not all vaginal bleeding is part of menstruation, and it's super common to experience bleeding between periods — such as during ovulation.

So what is ovulation bleeding, how does it affect fertility, and what symptoms should people keep an eye on? Stress less, folks: we've taken the time to research the facts on all things ovulation spotting to help you feel informed and in control.

What is ovulation?

Let's start with the basics (and if all of this is new to you, that's completely normal! Sexual and reproductive health education can be pretty inconsistent in this country and it's common for us to keep learning about our bodies throughout adulthood).

Ovulation is a phase of the menstrual cycle where the ovary releases an egg [2]. When the egg is released from the ovary, it moves along the fallopian tube towards the uterus.

Generally speaking, ovulation occurs about 2 weeks before the start of the menstrual period and can last from 16-32 hours.

Medical experts typically describe the menstrual cycle as one that begins and ends with menstruation (a period) and is 'divided' by ovulation [3].

Even though not all bodies demonstrate perfect clockwork, the general rule is that 2 weeks before a period, ovulation occurs. And 2 weeks after that period, another ovulation cycle happens.

As we get older, our cycle's length reduces, and the timing of ovulation becomes earlier. This variation of menstrual cycles reduces gradually with age and women experience bleeding less often and in less volume until they reach menopause.

Ovulation does not happen if you are:

A lot of the time, regularly menstruating women or people with vaginas don't think too much about ovulation unless they're experiencing uncomfortable ovulation symptoms, or if they are trying to get pregnant.

When does ovulation occur in the menstrual cycle?

If we think of the cycles throughout a lifetime, the menstrual cycle begins at the very first period (menarche) and ends with the very last period (menopause) [1].

Every person's cycle is unique, individual, and not always operating like clockwork.

The menstrual cycle occurs from the relationship between hormones in your brain and in your ovaries.

This leads to the development and release of an egg from the ovary, which is ovulation, and the growth of the endometrium lining of the uterus, to prepare it for pregnancy.

When hormones signal to the body that there is no pregnancy, the endometrium lining begins to break down and separate (or shed) from the uterus, which begins the period.

Once this lining has separated from the wall of the uterus, the cycle begins again.

You may have heard the term 'fertile window' before — this refers to the days of a cycle during which there is a higher probability of falling pregnant during unprotected sex (this is where timed intercourse comes in if you're trying to conceive!).

This is defined as the day of ovulation, as well as the five days leading up to it [3].

How do you know when you're ovulating?

If you have regular periods, it is likely you are ovulating each month.

If you're wanting to work out when exactly you're ovulating, there are a number of things you can do to get you started tracking ovulation [4]:

  • Calculate the length of your menstrual cycle: As we mentioned earlier, ovulation usually occurs around 2 weeks before your period starts (although this can vary from 10 to 16 days). If you track when your last period occurred, you may be able to track the days you're likely to be ovulating.
  • Keep an eye on your cervical mucus: During ovulation, you may notice your fluid is wetter, clearer and more 'slippery' than other vaginal discharge.
  • Temperature checks: If you happen to have a thermometer handy, you could try checking your temperature as there is a slight increase in basal body temperature during ovulation

Are there any obvious symptoms of ovulation?

As well as those mentioned above, some women experience symptoms such as mild to moderate bloating, breast tenderness, or abdominal pain (often referred to as ovulation pain).

Although it's worth noting that these symptoms alone do not mean you are actually ovulating.

Is all mid-cycle bleeding caused by ovulation?

Mid-cycle bleeding can be a common (and potentially annoying) issue. Vaginal bleeding that occurs outside of menstrual bleeding may not just be caused by ovulation.

It can be caused by a range of factors [5]:

  • Changes to your hormone levels: You may experience abnormal uterine bleeding due to things like stress or changes in diet.
  • Use of hormonal contraceptives: This is sometimes called 'breakthrough bleeding' and is more often experienced during the first few months of starting hormonal birth control. Some types of contraception such as IUDs can cause light spotting between periods, and if you're ever in doubt, check in with your doctor to make sure it's been inserted properly.
  • An infection: Bleeding between periods may be caused by a sexually transmitted infection or infections like thrush.
  • Injury: Sometimes people experience abnormal bleeding due to an injury to the vulva or vagina (things like rough sex or incorrectly inserting or removing a tampon).

Other causes include health conditions such as endometriosis, polyps in the cervix, inflammation or abnormalities in the cervix, fibroids, and ectopic pregnancy.

This list may seem concerning but don't be alarmed! Not all bleeding outside of a period is cause for concern — women experience ovulation bleeding or light vaginal bleeding during all stages of a cycle.

If you are bleeding excessively or experiencing severe symptoms (such as dizziness, feeling faint or severe pelvic pain), contact your healthcare professional or call 000 at the earliest signs in case of a medical emergency.

What causes bleeding during ovulation?

If the mid-cycle spotting you are experiencing is in fact during ovulation, research has found a correlation with certain hormone levels.

Experts have suggested that people who have higher progesterone levels, oestrogen levels and luteinizing hormone (LH) at the time of ovulation seem to be more likely to experience spotting during ovulation [5].

What does it look like?

Compared to menstruation, ovulation bleeding typically looks like a few drops of blood that you might notice in your underwear or on toilet paper.

It's generally much lighter in both colour and quantity than a period — this is because the spotting is also mixed with the cervical fluid, which increases during ovulation [5].

People who experienced ovulation bleeding have generally reported the blood to be light pink in colour and not very heavy in terms of volume.

When does ovulation bleeding occur?

Spotting during ovulation can occur at any stage when the body releases an egg.

This internal process is not one most women can actually feel happening (thank goodness we aren't chickens) so generally speaking, bleeding around 2 weeks before or after a period is usually explained as ovulation bleeding.

Interestingly, research shows that for most women, our cycles do not operate every 14 days.

One study analysed over 600, 000 menstrual cycles and found that differences in cycle length were predominantly caused by differences in ovulation day ('follicular phase length differences').

The research showed that the average follicular phase length was 16.9 days, not 14 [3].

From a clinical perspective, research like this highlights the importance of tracking your own ovulation cycle if you are trying to fall pregnant.

As well as getting a fertility hormone test, which can tell you about your ovarian reserve, possible signs of PCOS and your menopause timing and reproductive timeline, a genetic carrier test can also help you learn about the DNA of you and your partner.

If you're trying to conceive, these tests are handy ways of gathering as much information as possible, especially if you are concerned about your egg count or are wanting to rule out any reproductive complications.

Ovulation bleeding vs implantation bleeding

By now you know what ovulation bleeding is, but have you heard about implantation bleeding?

It happens when a fertilised egg attaches itself to your uterine lining, and it is an early pregnancy symptom.

Similar to ovulation bleeding, implantation bleeding is light, so it's easy to confuse the two. However, the latter occurs a few days before your next period should happen. So, timing is a good way to tell the difference between ovulation and implantation spotting.

If you're still unsure, you can always take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not you're expecting (especially if you're experiencing other common signs of pregnancy, such as nausea, mood swings and breast tenderness).

Is ovulation spotting considered normal?

Generally speaking, yes, and often in certain age groups.

Experts note that younger women may be more likely to experience irregular bleeding or light bleeding when ovulating [6].

Because every person's menstrual bleeding patterns are unique and personal, some people might notice light spotting during ovulation regularly, and others may never experience it at all.

Both experiences can be considered normal as it's helpful to remember that what is normal for your body may be abnormal to someone else's.

A lot of people find it useful to track their periods and symptoms to keep an eye out for anything concerning such as signs of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or other symptoms.

It's normal for our cycles to fluctuate over time, and many women experience a hormonal imbalance that affects menstruation.

But for peace of mind, if you are noticing anything concerning such as painful or unusual symptoms, we definitely recommend speaking with your healthcare provider. Your health comes first!

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