Written by Yoppie
23 May 2022
What is the luteal phase?
How long does the luteal phase last?
What symptoms am I likely to experience?
How can I manage symptoms and optimise this phase?
What if my luteal phase seems shorter or longer than normal?
How do I know if I have a Luteal Phase Defect?
Welcome to the luteal phase of your cycle! If you’re keen to figure out the when, how and why behind the elusive phases of your menstrual cycle, you’re in the right place - we’re doing a deep dive on the blog and covering all the phases of your cycle, starting with the luteal phase. Let’s take a look at what’s happening in your body, what symptoms you may have, and how to optimise this time of the month…
Like all phases of your cycle, it’s all about your body preparing for pregnancy, and hormones play a big role in this. By now you probably know the basics; an egg develops and drops from the ovaries, and in response, the lining of the uterus thickens to create a healthy environment for a pregnancy to occur.
If this doesn’t happen, the uterine lining says ‘see yah’ and sheds during the menstrual phase, which is where your period blood comes from. Then the cycle starts all over again. It goes menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal phase.
The luteal phase is the second half of the cycle which starts after ovulation and ends as soon as you get your period. The average length of this phase is 14 days, but it changes from person to person and throughout your life. Typically it lasts anywhere from 12 to 16 days, and is considered short if it lasts less than 10 days after ovulation ends. If you think this phase is short, it could be something called a Luteal Phase Defect - we’ll cover this later.
If you become pregnant during your cycle, your luteal phase will look a lot different, but assuming pregnancy doesn’t occur, you may experience the classic PMS symptoms we all love to hate, due to rapidly decreasing progesterone levels.
PMS symptoms can include both emotional and physical issues like anxiety, low mood, irritability, food cravings, sleep issues, fatigue, bloating, breast tenderness and more. These symptoms are normal but you never need to suffer in silence if they’re affecting your daily life, so speak to your doctor to check everything is as it should be, get recommendations, and start any necessary treatments.
There are things you can try to improve symptoms and optimise your luteal phase, such as managing cravings by eating healthy, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats that keep you fuller for longer, plus dark leafy veggies will support hormone metabolism.
If your PMS symptoms are causing issues then exercise is probably the last thing from your mind, so do less strenuous activities instead, like yoga or walking. You can also try to incorporate stress-relieving activities, like meditation or a calming hobby to lower cortisol levels, and since blood sugar tends to be higher during this phase, try to avoid high-carb foods and simple sugars.
If your luteal phase seems loooooonger than what’s considered normal, you could have a hormonal imbalance like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so speak to your doctor to make sure everything is a-OK.
As mentioned above, your luteal phase is considered ‘short’ if you get your period less than 10 days after ovulation. This can indicate a Luteal Phase Defect (LPD) which can often lead to fertility problems as it causes the ovaries to produce less progesterone than usual. Also, the lining of the uterus doesn’t get the chance to thicken as it should, making it more difficult for a fertilised egg to grow there.
It’s not exactly clear what causes LPDs to develop, but it’s believed lifestyle factors could be a cause. One study found people with a short luteal phase were more likely to be smokers, as it’s thought smoking can reduce the body’s oestrogen and progesterone production.
Luteal Phase Defects have been linked to health problems like endo, hyperprolactinemia, obesity, PCOS, thyroid disorders and more, so if you fall into any of these categories you may be at a higher risk of developing LPDs.
Other than fertility issues, symptoms of a Luteal Phase Defect include more frequent periods and spotting between periods, which is also the case for a range of different cycle-related health issues which makes it more difficult to diagnose.
If your doctor suspects this is the issue, they might suggest a blood test to check hormone levels or an ultrasound to measure the thickness of your uterine lining. If they find you have a Luteal Phase Defect, fear not - this isn’t usually a problem unless you’re trying to get pregnant. An LPD can affect fertility, with one study stating it could be a result of “abnormal corpus luteum function associated with insufficient progesterone production”.
Although relatively uncommon, Luteal Phase Defects are a notable cause of fertility issues, and it’s estimated they could be the cause for as many as 3-4% of couples struggling to conceive. If you have a Luteal Phase Defect, there are treatment options to encourage the ovaries to create more follicles, which you can discuss with your doctor.
Are you currently in your luteal phase? If you’re not sure, you can use the Learn Your Phase questionnaire on our website to learn more about your cycle and optimise your health! And if you have any questions about the luteal phase, you can chat about it over in our Full Stop FB group, or get in touch directly on Instagram at @itsyoppie.
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