The Menstrual Cycle Part 4: The Luteal Phase

Aug 30, 2021 | Hormone Balance, Menstrual Cycle, PMS, Root Causes, Symptoms

The Luteal Phase

The luteal phase begins after ovulation and ends the day that your period starts. Its primary goal is to prepare the body for the possibility of pregnancy.

Whether or not you become pregnant during ovulation, your energy, desire, focus, and emotions are all affected by your body’s anticipation of a fertilized embryo.

A healthy luteal phase can last anywhere from 11 to 17 days; however, 12 to 14 days is standard for most women.

The length of the luteal phase is important. If it is less than 10 days, the uterine lining might not be thick enough to support a growing baby. Some women with a short luteal phase struggle to get pregnant.

On the other hand, if your luteal phase is longer than 17 days and you’ve confirmed ovulation, there’s a good chance you’re pregnant or have a hormone imbalance. If you don’t track ovulation but notice that your cycles are abnormally long, you could have a hormone imbalance.

What’s Happening in Your Body?

At the start of the luteal phase, just after the egg has been released and the days following, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are at their peak concentrations. Testosterone quickly drops off, and estrogen and progesterone are left to run the show.

Remember that once you ovulate, the corpus luteum (the follicle that contains the egg) causes this rise in both progesterone and estrogen.

Estrogen continues to thicken the endometrial lining while progesterone keeps the lining in place. About halfway through the luteal phase, progesterone reaches its peak level. They work together to create a safe, homey environment for a possible fertilized egg.

Usually, between days 9 and 11, if pregnancy doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum starts to break down. As it dissolves and is reabsorbed into your body, estrogen and progesterone drop drastically. The rapid decline in hormones triggers menstruation.

You’ll know you’ve entered the luteal phase because signs of ovulation will disappear. Your cervix will return to its lower position and harden, you’ll notice very little cervical fluid, and if you track your waking temperature, you’ll see a spike that stays consistent up until the first day of your period.

See the image below for a visual of what’s going on with your hormones:

Luteal Phase Superpowers

During this part of your cycle, your brain will be ready to focus. You’ll be more detail-oriented, which makes it the perfect time for crossing things off your to-do list and wrapping up projects. Organizing, completing tasks, and getting things done will feel really good, and it will be easier for you to avoid distractions.

Your luteal phase is like your nesting phase. You know when a woman is pregnant, and she wants to make sure everything is in place and ready for the baby to come? That’s exactly what your body is doing. It wants to make sure everything is just right so it can focus its energy on nurturing a life – even when you’re not pregnant!

Your brain is aligned with your body, so it makes sense that tidying, cleaning, sorting, and finishing up big projects come easier to you this week. Check back on the plans you made during your follicular phase to see what needs to be crossed off your list. 

Even if you aren’t pregnant, it’s still super beneficial to get these things done while you still have the energy. Remember that your hormones levels, along with your energy, will dramatically drop off in another week or so. 

Luteal Phase Superfoods

Have you ever noticed that in the second half of your cycle, your feel hungrier? Your body’s goal during the luteal phase is to build up that uterine lining, and it’s going to need all the nutrients and energy it can get to do that. So it tells you, “Eat more food, please!”

You might even notice that junk food sounds especially nice. Foods high in sugar, carbs, and fat temporarily make us feel full and boost our serotonin. Something we need as estrogen and progesterone continue to drop.

However, if you give in to junk food cravings, it will only make you crash, cause mood swings, and contribute to PMS symptoms.

So how can you give your body what it really wants (and needs!)?

Focus on food that is rich in B vitamins. They will help you curb those sugar cravings. Pineapple is great for sugar cravings, especially if you’re trying to conceive. It contains bromelain, which is an anti-inflammatory that supports implantation.

Complex carbs such as root vegetables will not only give you the needed energy (and comfort!) but will also help your liver and large intestine flush out estrogen effectively.

If you struggle with fluid retention, such as bloating or swollen breasts, foods high in calcium and magnesium can help. You can find plenty of those in leafy greens. You’ll also want to limit salty food as this will contribute to fluid retention.

Especially if you deal with PMS cutting out or at least cutting back on sugar, alcohol, and caffeine can definitely help with PMS-triggered anxiety and mood changes.

Foods to include during the luteal phase:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Cucumber
  • Cauliflower
  • Mixed greens
  • Spinach
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Sesame seeds
  • Turmeric
  • Dark chocolate
  • Chickpeas
  • Navy beans
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Turkey
  • Bone broth
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Pineapple
  • Peppermint and other herbal teas

How to Exercise During the Luteal Phase

At the beginning of the luteal phase, you’ll still have energy to burn, making it the ideal time for super slow strength training, pilates, or low-intensity cardio.

Progesterone promotes a calming feeling but can make you feel more tired or drowsy. One study showed that intense training during the luteal cycle caused more cardiovascular strain and quicker exhaustion in heat. Remember how progesterone raises your body temperature? It’s not ideal for strenuous exercise, especially in hot and humid climates.

Instead of pushing your body past its limits in the luteal phase, slow down and enjoy slower less stimulating exercises. You will enjoy it more and see better results.

Another study showed that women who did yoga during the luteal phase had fewer PMS symptoms than those who did aerobic exercise.

If you have the energy and love the cardio still, opt for long walks, a few laps in the pool, or a bike ride. Lower intensity but still a good burn!

How the Luteal Phase Affects Your Relationships

During the first half of the luteal phase, you might still be in the mood to socialize, but as time goes on, it might be time to slow down and start saying “no” to invitations. You’ll likely have less energy to spend on others and will need to focus on taking care of yourself.

That doesn’t mean you have to clear your schedule for half the month. It just means that you need to schedule in quiet time and be pickier about who you spend your time with and what you’ll be doing together.

Setting boundaries isn’t always easy, but it will definitely help keep you from feeling overwhelmed or getting irritated at your friends and loved ones in the long run.

Intimacy During the Luteal Phase

WIth your hormones high at the beginning, you’ll still have a high libido, but as the days go by, you’ll find that you’ll need a little extra stimulation to keep things enjoyable.

This is the perfect week for romantic gestures. Because you’ll need a little more encouragement, setting mood lighting, using candles, playing soft music, and spending more time with each other beforehand will help.

Communication During the Luteal Phase

It’s crucial during the luteal phase to set boundaries in your relationships. Verbalize if something needs to change or if something makes you uncomfortable. Our emotional senses are heightened during this time, so communicating these emotions will help you avoid confrontations later on.

Remember that your partner can’t always read your mind, so if something bothers you or you need specific support, say it.

Embracing the Luteal Phase

Your luteal phase can be highly productive when you prioritize finishing tasks and preparing your environment, body, and mind for the upcoming menstrual phase.

Although PMS is common during this phase, it doesn’t have to be your normal. Eating, exercising, and communicating for your cycle will help diminish these symptoms. You’ll find that your pre-period week is something you can look forward to and enjoy just as much as the rest of your month.

If your luteal phase length is outside of the normal range, or if you struggle with intense PMS symptoms or acne during this phase, book a call with me so we can find the root cause and help you find some relief.