81% of women report the luteal phase to be the phase of their menstrual cycle that is the most challenging…and they’d like to get off this emotional rollercoaster. Your luteal phase isn’t just a matter of biological mechanics, it influences how you live your day-to-day life during this time, so lets talk about it. 

 

Your menstrual cycle and each of the phases play a crucial role in your health and well-being. It is the luteal phase that stands out, yet often gets overshadowed by the more discussed menstruation phase (your period) or ovulation phase (for those who are avoiding or looking to get pregnant). In this article we explore the luteal phase in more detail – the symptoms, how to calculate when it could be coming, why it happens, the hormone changes and what you can do to harness these changes to work in your favour.

 

What is the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle?

The luteal phase is the last phase of your menstrual cycle, but also the longest. Lasting 12 days on average, it begins right after your ovulation phase and before your menstruation phase (when your period starts). 

The further you progress into the luteal phase, and in the week running up to your period, you may experience PMS (Pre Menstrual Syndrome) symptoms.

 

What happens to my hormones during the luteal phase?

During the luteal phase your hormones experience a big shift, going from estrogen-led the first half of your menstrual cycle, to progesterone-led after the ovulation phase. 

This increase in progesterone during the luteal phase comes from the corpus luteum, a temporary gland formed in the ovaries after the release of an egg. Its primary role is to secrete progesterone, which thickens the lining of your uterus, in preparation for a fertilised egg to implant. 

As no fertilisation occurs, and you are not pregnant, the corpus luteum stops producing progesterone, which leads to your period approximately 10 days later, where you will shed this uterus lining.

 

You may notice changes to your vaginal discharge during the luteal phase. Your cervical mucus becomes thicker, forming a barrier against bacterial infections.

How long should the luteal phase last?

On average, the luteal phase lasts around 12 days, but it is important to remember that this may vary from person to person.

 

How to know if you are in the luteal phase

An increase in your basal body temperature – This is the temperature that you are when you wake up, first thing in the morning. Your temperature can rise between 0.3-0.6°C. You may also notice that you feel hotter than usual when you are rested also.

It is common to experience cramps during ovulation. This can be an indicator that your luteal phase is a few days away!

Physical symptoms of the luteal phase:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Hormonal spots or more spots appearing
  • Feeling a little more hungrier than usual
  • Feeling weaker than usual

 

You may also experience emotional symptoms during the luteal phase:

  • Increased irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Heightened emotions (good and bad!)
  • Some women report to experience the symptoms of any mental health conditions more severely in this phase; anxiety and depression in particular

It is during the luteal phase that some women experience Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).

 

We asked two of Louise’s (Blossom Wellness Founder) clients how they felt during their luteal phases. This is what they said:

How to ease your luteal phase symptoms

  1. Reduce your caffeine intake – We get it, you’re feeling more tired than usual. Adding more caffeine isn’t going to do what you want it to. Your sleep is incredibly important during the luteal phase, so keep caffeine to the mornings only
  2. Take a magnesium supplement – Magnesium is a super supplement for women, but especially during the luteal phase! Sustained use of a magnesium supplement not only helps with your sleep but it can also help with your mood.
  3. Still exercise, but exercise within your limits – The luteal phase is a challenge, but it doesn’t mean you should stop exercising completely. You also do not need a whole new exercise routine for this phase. You can do the same exercise, but you will need to monitor how you are feeling. Don’t be surprised if your typical weights feel heavier than usual, and equally, don’t expect yourself to lift them the same as when you’re in your follicular phase.
  4. Honour your cravings, but don’t go overboard – Your appetite may increase during the luteal phase and you may find yourself craving something specific. Have it, but don’t allow yourself to binge eat.
  5. Incorporate healthy fats in your diet – During the luteal phase your body’s insulin sensitivity decreases slightly, meaning you are more prone to spikes and crashes in your blood sugar. To combat this, prioritise healthy fats during the luteal phase to ease your cravings and luteal symptoms.

How to calculate and track your luteal phase

Regularly tracking your menstrual cycle and identifying your phases

If you are someone who has a regular menstrual cycle, you will be able to calculate when your luteal phase is likely to begin. Lets take the example of the average cycle, 28 days.

We know that ovulation takes place around day 15 of your menstrual cycle and lasts approximately 3 days, it is after then that you will be in your luteal phase. Lets do the maths:

*this is a rough estimate. Your personal timing may vary

 

Period Tracking Apps

There are apps available that will use an algorithm to calculate the different phases of your menstrual cycle, including the luteal phase. The more data you put into the app, the more accurate it can be with calculating the luteal phase for you. 

It is important to note that these apps are not completely accurate, and rely on you to be consistent with inputting data. We recommend you using these apps as a guide. 

 

Measuring your basal body temperature throughout your cycle

To measure your basal body temperature, you need to take your temperature first thing in the morning (before you brush your teeth!). When you ovulate, and in your luteal phase, your temperature will rise slightly. 

When you see your basal body temperature is higher than normal, you can assume you are in your luteal phase.

 

Tracking your discharge

Your vaginal discharge or cevical mucus becomes clear and watery during ovulation, but in the luteal phase it can be thicker, sticky, dry, or completely disappear. 

This change of discharge during the luteal phase happens as a protective measure by our bodies. Thicker discharge during this time acts as a barrier to stop any bacteria, infections and even sperm from entering the upper part of your reproductive tract.

 

Ovulation Tests

If you use ovulation tests, you will be able to know that you are due to ovulate in the 24 to 36 hours. It is once you have ovulated, that you will enter the luteal phase. So ovulation tests can give you a guide.

 

What if I have a short luteal phase? Or a long luteal phase?

Short Luteal Phase

A short luteal phase lasts 11 days or less. The concern with a short luteal phase is the insufficient time for your uterus lining to adequately thicken, enough to support the implantation of a fertilised egg. A short luteal phase may have an affect on your fertility.

If you think you may have a short luteal phase, we recommend you to start tracking your menstrual cycle and phases and present this information to your Doctor.

 

Long Luteal Phase

A long luteal phase lasts 17 days or more. 

This is typically down to a hormonal imbalance, or pregnancy. If your period seems to be later than usual, take a pregnancy test.

References

The scientific resources behind this article

References
Barr, S. I., Janelle, K. C., & Prior, J. C. (1995). Energy intakes are higher during the luteal phase of ovulatory menstrual cycles. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 61(1), 39-43.

Lenton, E. A., LANDGREN, B. M., & Sexton, L. (1984). Normal variation in the length of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle: identification of the short luteal phase. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 91(7), 685-689.
Najmabadi S, Schliep KC, Simonsen SE, Porucznik CA, Egger MJ, Stanford JB.

Menstrual bleeding, cycle length, and follicular and luteal phase lengths in women without known subfertility: A pooled analysis of three cohorts. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2020 May;34(3):318-327. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12644. Epub 2020 Feb 27. PMID: 32104920; PMCID: PMC8495765.

Porri, D., Biesalski, H. K., Limitone, A., Bertuzzo, L., & Cena, H. (2021). Effect of magnesium supplementation on women’s health and well-being. NFS Journal, 23, 30-36.

Rao, V. L., & Mahmood, T. (2020). Vaginal discharge. Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine, 30(1), 11-18.

Steward, K., & Raja, A. (2019). Physiology, ovulation and basal body temperature. Thiyagarajan, D. K., Basit, H., & Jeanmonod, R. (2022). Physiology, menstrual cycle. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.

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