Ovulation spotting is light bleeding that occurs around the time that you ovulate. Ovulation is when your ovary releases an egg. Not every woman will experience ovulation spotting. In fact, one study found only about 3 percent of women have spotting in the middle of their cycles.

Read on to learn more about ovulation spotting, including how to identify it and when it occurs, plus other signs that you may be ovulating.

If you notice spotting around the middle of your cycle, it may be ovulation spotting. Spotting is light vaginal bleeding that happens outside of your regular periods. Typically, this bleeding is much lighter than what you’ll experience when you have your period.

The color of the blood can provide clues to the cause of the spotting. That’s because the color changes depending on the speed of the blood flow. Some women describe ovulation spotting as light pink or red in color. Pink spotting is a sign that the blood is mixed with cervical fluid. Women typically produce more cervical fluid at the time of ovulation.

Ovulation spotting usually lasts a day or two.

Ovulation usually occurs anywhere between 11 and 21 days after the first day of your last period, though it may occur sooner or later in some women, depending on the length of your cycle. Ovulation can also happen at various times during a woman’s cycle and may take place on a different day each month.

Tracking ovulation can help improve your chances for becoming pregnant. Some women also track ovulation as a way to prevent pregnancy. If you’re trying to get pregnant, light spotting during ovulation may be a sign that you can conceive around this time of your cycle.

Keep in mind that an egg is only available for fertilization for about 12–24 hours during ovulation. But, because sperm can live in the body for three to five days, your fertile window of opportunity is about 5 days each month. That means if you have unprotected sex four days before you ovulate, you may still become pregnant. However, if you have sex the day after ovulation, you are unlikely to become pregnant unless you have a very short cycle.

Ovulation spotting may be caused by rapid hormonal changes that occur during ovulation. In one study, higher levels of luteal progesterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) around ovulation were seen in women who experienced ovulation bleeding.

Having higher or lower levels of these hormones does not mean that you are more or less likely to conceive.

You may notice other signs and symptoms of ovulation, including:

  • increase in cervical fluid
  • cervical fluid that looks like egg whites
  • change in the position or firmness of the cervix
  • change in basal body temperature (a slight decline in temperature before ovulation followed by a sharp increase after ovulation)
  • increased sex drive
  • pain or a dull ache on one side of the abdomen
  • higher levels of LH, which can be measured with an ovulation test
  • breast tenderness
  • bloating
  • an intensified sense of smell, taste, or vision

Paying close attention to these symptoms may help you narrow down your window to conceive.

While ovulation spotting happens around the time that your body releases an egg, implantation spotting occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the inner lining of your uterus.

Implantation spotting is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. About one-third of pregnant women will experience it.

Unlike ovulation spotting, which usually occurs mid-cycle, implantation spotting happens a few days before your next period should occur.

Because implantation bleeding happens around the same time you might expect your period, you may mistake implantation bleeding for your period. Here are the differences:

  • Implantation bleeding is light pink to dark brown in color. Menstruation bleeding is usually bright to dark red.
  • Implantation bleeding is much lighter in flow than your period.
  • Implantation bleeding only lasts for half a day to a couple days. Periods typically last longer than this.

You may also experience the following symptoms in addition to implantation bleeding:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • mood swings
  • light cramping
  • breast tenderness
  • low backache
  • fatigue

Implantation bleeding isn’t something to worry about and doesn’t pose any danger to an unborn baby.

Spotting is different than the bleeding you experience when you have your period. Typically, spotting:

  • is lighter in flow
  • is pink, reddish, or brown in color
  • only lasts for a day or two

Bleeding due to your menstrual period is usually heavy enough to require a pad, tampon, or menstrual cup. The average period lasts about five days and produces a total blood loss of about 30 to 80 milliliters (mL). They typically occur every 21 to 35 days.

If you think you may be pregnant, wait until the first day after your missed period to take a pregnancy test. If you had ovulation bleeding, this may be about 15 to 16 days after the bleeding occurred.

Taking a test too early may result in a false-negative test. Pregnancy tests measure the amount of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. This hormone rises rapidly when you’re pregnant, but in the very early days of pregnancy, the levels will be too low to detect in your urine.

If your test comes back positive, make an appointment with your OB/GYN to confirm the results. If your test is negative and your period still hasn’t started, take another test a week later. If your test is still negative, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Ovulation spotting only occurs in a small number of women. You can still ovulate without experiencing spotting. If you’re trying to conceive, track your menstrual cycle and watch for other signs of ovulation, such as changes in cervical mucus and basal body temperature. Keep in mind that your body temperature rises after ovulation, so this is not the best approach for predicting your fertile window.

You can also use an ovulation tracking app or an ovulation test. Ovulation tests work similarly to pregnancy urine tests, except they test for LH in your urine. LH increases just before and during ovulation. These tests are useful for identifying your fertile window and increasing the chances of pregnancy.

If you’ve been trying to conceive for more than a year — or for more than 6 months if you’re over 35 — talk to your doctor. They can do tests to see if you’re ovulating as expected, or if you or your partner have trouble with infertility.