What Is the Luteal Phase?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on May 08, 2024
8 min read

The luteal phase is the part of your menstrual cycle that prepares your uterus for pregnancy by thickening your uterine lining. Typically it happens around day 15 of a 28-day cycle, and it’s over once your period starts. 

A menstrual cycle has four phases:

  1. Menses phase. This phase starts on day 1 of your period, when you begin shedding your uterine lining. It ends when you stop bleeding.
  2. Follicular phase. This phase also starts on the first day of your period, overlapping with menses, but continues until you ovulate. 
  3. Ovulation phase. This phase happens when your ovaries release an egg, typically around day 14 of a 28-day cycle.
  4. Luteal phase. This phase starts with ovulation and ends with the first day of your period.

Luteal phase length

A luteal phase is the “second half” of your period, starting right after ovulation happens. Doctors consider an average period to be 28 days long. A normal luteal phase lasts about 12 to 14 days, from day 15 to day 28. But like a menstrual cycle, this can vary. Normal menstrual cycles range from 21 to 35 days. Luteal phases that last 11 to 17 days are in the normal range. 

Short luteal phase

If your luteal phase is 10 days or less, doctors call it a short luteal phase. With this, you get your period 10 days or less from ovulation. Your uterine lining can’t grow thick enough in this amount of time for an embryo to implant and grow correctly. When you have a short luteal phase, it can be difficult to get pregnant. 

A luteal phase that isn’t long enough to thicken your uterine lining enough for embryo support can also be a sign of a luteal phase dysfunction (LPD). This happens because your body doesn’t make as much of the hormone progesterone as it needs to so your uterine lining will grow.

Your doctor can use a blood test to check your progesterone levels, or they may want to do a biopsy of your uterine lining to help diagnose LPD. 

Long luteal phase

A luteal phase that is longer than 18 days is a long luteal phase. You don’t get your period until 18 days after ovulation or longer. Not getting your period for 18 days or longer can be a sign that your egg was fertilized and you’re pregnant, but sometimes a long luteal phase can be a sign of a hormonal imbalance such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 

When you have PCOS, your periods are usually irregular and hard to predict. You may also have more body hair than normal, and your ovaries can be larger than normal and work abnormally. It can be hard to get pregnant when you have PCOS. 

During the luteal phase, an egg leaves a small sac in your ovary called a follicle and starts to travel to your uterus through your fallopian tubes. The cells that made up that leftover follicle form what’s called the corpus luteum. 

The corpus luteum is a key part of the luteal phase. It makes estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that signal certain changes in your menstrual cycle. The progesterone your corpus luteum makes controls two functions:

  • Thickening the lining of your uterus (the endometrium) so that a fertilized egg can attach to it and begin to grow.
  • Thickening your cervical mucus – the fluid your cervix makes – into a paste-like consistency. 

Your progesterone levels are typically highest around 6 to 8 days after ovulation. 

If the egg your follicle releases at ovulation isn’t fertilized, the corpus luteum dissolves. This decreases your progesterone and estrogen levels and you get your period. If you do get pregnant, the corpus luteum continues making progesterone for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy until your placenta grows and takes over progesterone production. After that point, the corpus luteum dissolves.

Your body temperature also increases slightly at the beginning of your luteal phase just after ovulation. You won’t notice the change (it may be as small as 0.4 degrees F), but you can measure it using a special thermometer called a basal body thermometer. You take your temperature first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. Some people use this to help identify when they ovulate so they can increase their chances of getting pregnant. 

Your luteal phase is when you typically experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. The change in your hormone levels can create physical and emotional issues.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Sore breasts that are slightly swollen
  • Bloating 
  • Retaining fluids (edema, swelling)
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Appetite changes 
  • Skin changes, such as breakouts
  • Muscle pain (cramps)
  • Joint pain
  • Feeling overly tired

Emotionally, you may experience:

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

Some people have a more severe set of symptoms during their luteal phase. This is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Doctors used to call this late luteal dysphoric disorder (LLDD). Symptoms are similar to PMS but worse. They happen during the last week of the luteal phase and end once your period starts. 

Luteal phase discharge

Your cervical mucus, or discharge, changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Just before you ovulate, at the end of your follicular phase, it’s clear and slippery (if you were to look at it and feel it between your fingers). This helps sperm swim up to the egg. The mucus is like this because of the level of estrogen in your body. 

Once ovulation happens, your discharge changes. In the luteal phase it thickens and dries up, so your cervical mucus is more like a paste. A thick mucus serves as a barrier from bacteria in case pregnancy begins and a fertilized egg needs protection. 

The change in hormones during your luteal phase can sometimes cause unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms, but there are ways you can comfort and care for yourself as you await your period.

First, keep track of your periods so you can better prepare for when it will arrive each time and have a record of how the different phases affect you. Then, put a plan of action in place when you reach your luteal phase:

  • Keep moving. It’s tempting to let fatigue and bloating and pain keep you on the couch, but when you can, take a walk, do yoga, or engage in some other form of physical activity that feels good to you. Getting at least 30 minutes a day of exercise not only improves your mood, but it can also help reduce certain PMS symptoms. 
  • De-stress. Make intentional efforts to relax your body to help lower tension in your muscles and mind. Practice deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation. You may have fewer headaches and better sleep as a result. 
  • Prioritize quality sleep. Be sure you’re getting the ZZZs you need. Keep a regular bedtime and wake time, keep your room cool and dark, and put away screens well before going to bed. 
  • Ask about complementary therapy. See what your doctor recommends to help treat symptoms such as cramps and bloating. Some may be over-the-counter medications, but other options such as acupuncture or supplements may be options, too. 

Luteal phase foods 

Your body needs more of some nutrients and less of others when you’re in the luteal phase. Heed these diet dos and don’ts:

  • Eat small portions, more often. Bloating creates a feeling of fullness. You can help ease it by not filling up with three big, heavy meals a day. Snack on smaller meals five to six times a day instead. 
  • Skip the salt. During the luteal phase, you tend to hold on to fluid, and extra salt in your diet can make that worse. 
  • Go for complex carbs. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains give your body a mood boost. Carbs raise your serotonin levels, a feel-good chemical in your brain. Plus, the fiber in them helps keep you regular. 
  • Raise your calcium levels. Calcium may ease your mood swings, headache, bloating, and irritability. You get it in milk, cheese, yogurt, and calcium-fortified foods. 
  • Bump up magnesium. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of magnesium, which may help keep bloating at bay and relieve breast tenderness. 
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both can mess with your sleep, and alcohol can have depressive effects. 
  • The luteal phase is the part of your period that takes place after ovulation and ends when your period starts.
  • A typical luteal phase lasts 12 to 14 days, but it may be slightly shorter or longer. Abnormally short and long luteal phases are the result of hormone imbalances.
  • During a typical luteal phase, your uterine lining matures and thickens so that it can support a fertilized egg to grow. If there is no fertilized egg, your uterus sheds the lining and your period starts, ending your luteal phase.
  • Your luteal phase is when you may experience symptoms of PMS, such as bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and abdominal cramps.

Can you get pregnant in the luteal phase?

Your luteal phase is exactly when you get pregnant. This is when a sperm meets the egg your follicle just released. However, if you’re trying to conceive, you shouldn’t wait until after ovulation (when the luteal phase starts) to have sex because your fertility window closes 12-24 hours after this happens. You raise your chances of pregnancy if you have sex in the 5-day span before your ovulation during the follicular phase.  

What are the moods in the luteal phase?

It’s common for people to experience irritability, depression, and anxiety during the luteal phase. Your mood may swing from one feeling to another without warning. Sometimes ovulation can increase feelings of sexual desire, but this may decrease as progesterone rises, leaving desire lower for the rest of your luteal phase.

Why am I so tired during the luteal phase?

Studies show progesterone can increase feelings of fatigue. Since your progesterone levels are elevated during your luteal phase, tiredness is likely to follow. 

How do you fight fatigue in the luteal phase?

Take advantage of your most energetic time of day to get exercise in. Not only is it good for overall health, but a brisk walk, bike ride, swim, or other aerobic activity can help reduce feelings of fatigue and boost your energy reserves. Don’t rely on caffeine as a crutch for tired times, either. Caffeine can disrupt nighttime sleep, robbing you of the rest you need.

What do you crave in the luteal phase period?

Studies on the later part of the luteal phase show you’re likely to have a hankering for sweet, fat-filled, and rich foods. Think fatty foods and sugary treats like baked goods, candy bars, and chips. 

Which foods should be avoided during the luteal phase?

Salty foods can contribute to your body’s fluid retention, so it’s best to steer clear of sodium-rich snacks and the salt shaker. Food and drinks with high caffeine content can mess with your sleep and may make you more irritable.   

Does your face change during the luteal phase?

Some studies show that the shape and texture of your face may slightly change in the luteal phase. Studies note that changes may include the lower part of your face becoming fuller, your nose getting broader, and your eyebrows getting more pronounced.