Luteal Phase - What It Is and How It Impacts You

Luteal phase is one of the four phases of the menstrual cycle and starts on the second half of your cycle, after ovulation and ends when your next period starts.

Luteal Phase - What It Is and How It Impacts You
Article reviewed and written by Dr. Natalie Brown
This article was last updated on November 2023

The menstrual cycle has two main phases, the follicular and the luteal phase. In this article, we will explore in detail the luteal phase, hormone changes, common symptoms, and how you can mitigate them to take advantage and feel your best during this phase.

What is the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle?

The luteal phase is one of the two phases of the menstrual cycle and starts in the second half of your cycle, right after ovulation, and ends when your next period starts.

We can then differentiate the Luteal Phase even further into:

  • Mid-Luteal Phase
  • Late Luteal Phase (when PMS typically occurs)

You can find out more about the different phases in our article “The Menstrual Cycle - Phases, Hormones, and Their Functions"

Female Menstrual Cycle

What happens during the luteal phase?

The luteal phase is characterized by a shift in hormonal balance, with a rise in progesterone contrasting with the estrogen-dominated first half of the menstrual cycle. After you ovulate, the corpus luteum—a structure inside the ovaries that holds a developing egg—collapses and begins to produce progesterone.

Progesterone is a female reproductive hormone that helps thicken your uterine lining so that if there is a fertilized egg, it can implant itself. If no egg implants, the corpus luteum stops producing progesterone and your period starts after about 10-16 days, shedding your uterine lining.

Alongside progesterone, the corpus luteum also secretes a small amount of estrogen, further supporting the uterine lining in preparation for a possible pregnancy.

Moreover, the consistency of cervical mucus changes during the luteal phase, thickening to form a protective barrier that helps prevent bacterial infections.

Luteal phase

Why is the luteal phase important for female health?

Why is the luteal phase important for women trying to conceive?

The luteal phase is a crucial part of the menstrual cycle. During this time, your body increases progesterone levels as well as other hormones that help prepare the uterus for pregnancy.

When we think about pregnancy, most of our minds jump straight to conception—when the sperm enters the egg. However, pregnancy doesn’t really begin until the embryo implants in the uterine lining and for that to take place, the body must make enough progesterone to build up a thick, healthy lining.

What is a luteal phase defect?

If your body isn’t making enough progesterone, your luteal phase may be on the short side. Anything shorter than 10 days can make it difficult to achieve pregnancy. This is called a luteal phase defect.

Why is the luteal phase important for all women, even if not trying to conceive?

Even if you aren’t trying to get pregnant, your progesterone levels matter. Progesterone is crucial for health, it helps with mood and with deep sleep.

How do I know if I’m in my luteal phase?

The increase in progesterone causes your basal body temperature (BBT) to rise slightly (0.3-0.6 degrees Celsius) and it returns to baseline once your next period starts. When your BBT rises, you’ll know you are in your luteal phase.

Moreover, some women experience ovulation pain which can also be used as an indication that a shift in phases is approaching.

Personal Experience: I always experience light ovulation pains (they feel like light period cramps) which signal that I'm moving into my Mid-Luteal Phase. I also feel like my mind starts to slow down (in a positive way) and I can concentrate on tasks for longer periods. I enjoy the mid-luteal phase.
basal body temperature change during the menstrual cycle

How to calculate when you enter your luteal phase?

Here are 4 ways from most accurate to approximations.

  1. If you use an ovulation test, you’ll know when you see an LH surge that you’ll ovulate within the next 24 to 36 hours. This means you will enter the luteal phase in around 24 to 36 hours.
  2. Measuring your basal body temperature throughout your cycle can help you identify if you have already ovulated and entered the luteal phase.
  3. You can also calculate when you are entering your luteal phase with a period tracking app and using the ovulation estimate to give you rough guidance. Though not 100% accurate it’s good enough to give you an indication of where you might be in your cycle. Changes in cervical mucus can also help to detect which can be included in your tracking.
  4. Lastly, if your cycles are regular you can also calculate when your luteal phase will start by dividing the length of your cycle in half.
    For example, if your cycle is 28 days long, Ovulation is likely to occur on day 14, which would make the luteal start on day 15 and last 14 days.

How long should the luteal phase be?

The luteal phase should last anywhere between 12-17 days. In most cases, the luteal phase lasts between 12-14 days.

What does it mean if your luteal phase is short?

A short luteal phase is when it lasts 11 days or fewer. This means that less than 11 days pass from the moment you ovulate to your next period. The main concern with a short luteal phase is that it may not give the womb lining enough time to thicken sufficiently to be able to support the implantation of a fertilized egg.

What are the causes of a short luteal phase?

A short luteal phase might happen when your body doesn’t make enough progesterone. Some of the reasons why this might occur are:

  • PCOS
  • Eating disorders
  • Obesity
  • Aging
  • Stress
  • Excessive exercise
  • Thyroid disorders

How do you know if you have a short luteal phase?

One of the ways to know if you have a short luteal phase is to use one of the methods above to calculate when you have ovulated - i.e. ovulation test or measuring your BBT - and then count the number of days between ovulation and the start of your next period. If your luteal phase is fewer than 11 days, you may have low progesterone.

What does it mean if your luteal phase is long?

Long luteal phases are defined as being longer than 17 days and may be due to hormone imbalances, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

However, it could also mean that you are pregnant. If your period is delayed, it’s advisable to take a pregnancy test.

What are the symptoms in the luteal phase?

As your progesterone levels increase you may start experiencing a number of symptoms. These may become more pronounced as you approach the end of your cycle and are often referred to as PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome).

Common symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Tender breasts
  • Headaches
  • Breakouts or spots
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Change in body temperature
  • Difficulty sleeping
luteal phase symptoms

How to ease symptoms in the late luteal phase (PMS)?

These are a few ways you can reduce PMS symptoms during the late luteal phase:

  • Prioritize rest and sleep: A number of these symptoms such as a change in your basal body temperature(BBT) and increased anxiety, can cause difficulty sleeping and thus perpetuate other symptoms. During this time it is always advisable to prioritize rest  (i.e. sleep an extra hour or two if you are feeling tired) to support energy levels. Also concentrate on quality of sleep, sleep hygiene tips such as a regular bedtime routine and bedroom environment can help promote good sleep quality.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake: It’s easy to increase intake when you are feeling fatigued, however, that will only perpetuate the problem. Instead, opt for reducing (ideally eliminating) your caffeine intake past 12 pm. That will help you sleep better

Check out our article "What to Eat During the Luteal Phase to learn more about how to use nutrition to support your hormones".

Struggling with PMS? Learn what it is and how to ease symptoms
You have probably heard of PMS and if you menstruate you have probably also experienced it. But what is it and how can we ease the symptoms?

Late Luteal Phase hacks shared by women (based on their personal experience)

byu/CowInternational9462 from discussion

Frequently Asked Questions on the luteal phase

What is a luteal phase defect (LPD)?

Luteal Phase Defect (LPD) (sometimes referred to as Luteal Phase Deficiency or Luteal Phase Insufficiency) refers to a condition where there is an abnormality in the development of the endometrium (the innermost lining of the uterus). To put it simply, if a woman has LPD her womb lining doesn’t thicken properly each month, making it hard for her to carry a pregnancy.

  • Insufficient Progesterone Production: The corpus luteum's primary function is to produce progesterone to prepare the uterine lining for the potential implantation of a fertilized egg. In cases of LPD, the corpus luteum fails to secrete adequate levels of progesterone.
  • Inadequate Uterine Response: Sometimes, the uterine lining doesn't respond to progesterone as it should, which can also be categorized under LPD.
  • Impact on Fertility: A Luteal Phase Defect can significantly impact a woman's ability to conceive or maintain a pregnancy due to the inadequate preparation of the uterine lining.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnosing LPD can be challenging as it requires precise timing to measure progesterone levels or evaluate the uterine lining.
  • Treatment: Treatment may include progesterone supplementation to support the uterine lining or other fertility treatments to address underlying issues affecting the luteal phase.
  • Possible Causes: While the exact causes of LPD are not well-understood, conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, or excessive exercise and stress might contribute to luteal phase issues.

Can you get pregnant in your luteal phase?

You can get pregnant during the luteal phase. However, once you’ve ovulated the egg can only survive for 12-24 hours and so you can only get pregnant on the first day of the luteal phase.

Measuring your basal body temperature daily can help you understand when you are entering the luteal phase and your chances of getting pregnant.

Are you weaker during the Luteal phase?

Research is unclear on this one. Some studies suggest that women are stronger and able to build muscle faster during the Follicular phase over the Luteal one, however, recent studies have shown that this might not be the case. Check out a review of current studies for more information: Does the menstrual cycle impact women's muscle strength performance in resistance training? Research Review

How do you feel during the Luteal Phase?

Share your experience in the comments below so we can learn