What Is the Luteal Phase

What Is the Luteal Phase? Symptoms and More

What Is the Luteal Phase?

What Is the Luteal Phase

The luteal phase is the stage of your menstrual cycle that readies your uterus for pregnancy by thickening its lining. It usually starts around day 15 in a 28-day cycle and ends when your period begins.

A menstrual cycle is divided into four phases:

  1. Menstruation phase: This begins on the first day of your period when you start shedding the uterine lining and ends when the bleeding stops.
  2. Follicular phase: This starts on the first day of your period, overlapping with the menstruation phase, and continues until ovulation.
  3. Ovulation phase: This occurs when an egg is released from your ovaries, typically around day 14 in a 28-day cycle.
  4. Luteal phase: This starts after ovulation and concludes on the first day of your next period.

Luteal phase length

Luteal phase length

The luteal phase is the second half of your menstrual cycle, beginning right after ovulation. Typically, a menstrual cycle is about 28 days long, and the luteal phase usually lasts between 12 to 14 days, from day 15 to day 28. However, just like menstrual cycles can vary, so can the length of the luteal phase. While normal menstrual cycles range from 21 to 35 days, luteal phases can be anywhere from 11 to 17 days and still be considered normal.

Short luteal phase

Short luteal phase

If your luteal phase is 10 days or shorter, doctors refer to it as a short luteal phase. This means your period starts 10 days or less after ovulation. With such a short luteal phase, the uterine lining doesn’t have enough time to thicken properly, making it difficult for an embryo to implant and grow, which can hinder pregnancy.

A luteal phase that isn’t long enough to adequately support an embryo may indicate luteal phase dysfunction (LPD). This condition occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough progesterone, a hormone necessary for thickening the uterine lining.

To diagnose LPD, your doctor can check your progesterone levels with a blood test or perform a biopsy of your uterine lining.

Long luteal phase

Long luteal phase

A luteal phase longer than 18 days is considered a long luteal phase, meaning your period doesn’t start until at least 18 days after ovulation. This can sometimes indicate pregnancy, as it suggests the egg might have been fertilized. However, a long luteal phase can also signal a hormonal imbalance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

With PCOS, periods are often irregular and unpredictable. Other symptoms can include excessive body hair and enlarged, abnormally functioning ovaries. PCOS can make it challenging to become pregnant.

What Happens During the Luteal Phase?

What Happens During the Luteal Phase

During the luteal phase, an egg leaves a small sac in your ovary called a follicle and travels to your uterus through the fallopian tubes. The cells from the leftover follicle form the corpus luteum, which is crucial during this phase.

The corpus luteum produces estrogen and progesterone, hormones that trigger changes in your menstrual cycle. Progesterone from the corpus luteum has two main roles:

  1. Thickening the lining of your uterus (the endometrium) to support a fertilized egg.
  2. Thickening your cervical mucus to a paste-like consistency.

Progesterone levels peak around 6 to 8 days after ovulation.

If the egg isn’t fertilized, the corpus luteum dissolves, causing progesterone and estrogen levels to drop, and you get your period. If you become pregnant, the corpus luteum continues producing progesterone for the first 12 weeks until the placenta takes over, after which the corpus luteum dissolves.

Your body temperature also rises slightly at the start of the luteal phase, just after ovulation. This change is small (about 0.4 degrees F), but can be measured with a basal body thermometer. Taking your temperature first thing in the morning can help identify ovulation, aiding those trying to conceive.

Luteal Phase Symptoms

Luteal Phase Symptoms

The luteal phase is when you typically experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms due to changes in hormone levels, which can cause physical and emotional issues.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Sore, slightly swollen breasts
  • Bloating
  • Fluid retention (edema)
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Skin breakouts
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling tense
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in sexual interest and desire
  • Irritability
  • Hostility and anger outbursts
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Crying spells
  • Withdrawing from social activities

Some people experience more severe symptoms during the luteal phase, known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), previously called late luteal dysphoric disorder (LLDD). PMDD symptoms are similar to PMS but more intense and typically occur during the last week of the luteal phase, ending when your period starts.

Luteal Phase Discharge

Your cervical mucus, or discharge, changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Just before you ovulate, at the end of the follicular phase, it becomes clear and slippery, which helps sperm swim up to the egg. This change is due to the increased estrogen levels in your body.

After ovulation, during the luteal phase, your discharge thickens and becomes more like a paste. This thick mucus acts as a barrier to protect a potential pregnancy from bacteria, ensuring a fertilized egg has a safe environment.

Thriving During Your Luteal Phase

The hormonal changes during your luteal phase can sometimes lead to unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms. However, there are ways to care for yourself and find comfort as you await your period.

First, track your periods to better prepare for each phase and understand how they affect you. Then, follow a plan during your luteal phase:

  • Stay active: Even though fatigue, bloating, and pain might tempt you to stay on the couch, try to keep moving. Take a walk, do yoga, or engage in any physical activity that feels good. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day can improve your mood and help reduce some PMS symptoms.
  • De-stress: Make intentional efforts to relax your body and mind. Practice deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation. These techniques can help reduce tension, leading to fewer headaches and better sleep.
  • Prioritize quality sleep: Ensure you're getting enough rest. Maintain a regular bedtime and wake time, keep your room cool and dark, and avoid screens before bed.
  • Consider complementary therapy: Ask your doctor about options for treating symptoms like cramps and bloating. They might recommend over-the-counter medications, acupuncture, or supplements.

Luteal Phase Foods 

Your nutritional needs shift during the luteal phase, so here are some dietary tips to follow:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Combat bloating by opting for smaller portions spread throughout the day instead of three large meals.
  • Limit salt intake: Since the luteal phase can cause fluid retention, reducing salt in your diet can help alleviate this symptom.
  • Choose complex carbohydrates: Opt for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to boost your mood as they increase serotonin levels in your brain. Additionally, their fiber content aids in digestion.
  • Increase calcium intake: Calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and calcium-fortified foods may help alleviate mood swings, headaches, bloating, and irritability.
  • Incorporate magnesium-rich foods: Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of magnesium, which can help reduce bloating and relieve breast tenderness.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Both substances can disrupt sleep patterns, and alcohol may exacerbate mood swings.


The luteal phase occurs after ovulation and lasts until the beginning of your period. Typically lasting 12 to 14 days, it can vary slightly in duration. Abnormalities in luteal phase length often stem from hormone imbalances.

During this phase, the uterine lining thickens to prepare for potential pregnancy. If fertilization doesn't occur, the lining sheds, marking the start of your period and the end of the luteal phase.

PMS symptoms, including bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and abdominal cramps, commonly manifest during the luteal phase.

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