What You Need to Know About the Luteal Phase
Before the Body Bleeds
During my teenage years and early twenties, I never once considered what was actually happening inside my body during my period. All I knew was that once a month, every month, for what seemed like my entire life — I would bleed.
No questions asked. I’d recall something about the blood coming from the uterine lining, or something about menstrual cramps preparing me for childbirth. But generally, I never thought about it. So, imagine my surprise when I’m nearly thirty years old and I am just now learning about the intricate phases of my monthly cycle.
Not only am I learning about them, but I’m also learning entirely new vocabularies and ways to hack into my cycle and make it work for me. Someone recently suggested to me that menstruation could be an enjoyable experience, and I for one am beyond interested to discover how exactly. The first step in this journey is understanding the four cycles of your menstrual cycle. Let’s talk about the Luteal Phase —
When does this phase occur?
The Luteal Phase occurs in the 11–17 day window between ovulation and your period.
What happens during this phase?
At the beginning of the Luteal Phase, your body has just gone through ovulation. During the first days of this phase, you are still experiencing higher levels of estrogen and progesterone which will cause the milk ducts in the breasts to dilate. For this reason, you may experience swelling or tenderness during the Luteal Phase.
The ruptured follicle (that released the egg for ovulation) closes and forms a structure called a corpus luteum. This structure increases the quantities of progesterone in your body. The corpus luteum produces progesterone to —
Prepare the uterus in case an embryo is implanted
Cause the endometrium to thicken
Cause the mucus in the cervix to thicken, so that sperm or bacteria are less likely to enter the uterus.
In other words, your body basically creates a tiny endocrine gland every month to facilitate the complex processes of preparing your body for an embryo. If the egg is in fact fertilized, this tiny endocrine gland supplies nutrients to the embryo while the placenta forms. If the egg released during ovulation is not fertilized, then the corpus luteum degenerates causing estrogen and progesterone levels to decrease and a new menstrual cycle to begin.
What hormones change during this phase?
If the egg is not fertilized during ovulation, then the body will begin going through the Luteal Phase. Estrogen and testosterone levels plummet when the egg isn’t fertilized. Then the corpus luteum will begin making progesterone. Near the end of this phase, all hormone levels will decrease to their lowest point during your cycle.
What should the food focus be during this phase?
During the Luteal Phase the fluctuations in hormones, especially the bottoming out of estrogen, will lead to rising PMS. This is a great time to focus on staving off the emotional roller coaster of PMS, as well as constipation or bloating that often occurs as your body prepares to bleed. The key here is to curb your cravings. You can do this by eating light but often, increasing fiber to avoid constipation, increasing fruits and sweet vegetables to curb sugar cravings.
Focus on the following food items during this phase —
Veggies: Sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, parsnip, cauliflower, cucumber
Fruits: Berries, apples, pears, dates, bananas
Carbs: Brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat
Protein: Chickpeas, great northern beans, wild-caught salmon, eggs
Nuts/Seeds: Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds
Supplement: Magnesium, peppermint tea, spirulina, turmeric lattes, ashwagandha, and dark chocolate
During the Luteal Phase try your best to avoid alcohol, carbonated drinks, dairy, added salt, and excessive caffeine. These will all increase the symptoms of PMS, so it is best to go without during this phase. This phase is a good time to commit to abstaining from alcohol or caffeine. Personally, I can give up alcohol much easier than my coffee. Either way, do what makes the most sense for you.
What’s the best way to exercise during this phase?
At the beginning of the Luteal Phase, you are still experiencing higher levels of estrogen and testosterone. During this period immediately post-ovulation, we will experience high energy. Focus on getting good workouts in during the first few days of the phase. As the Luteal Phase progresses, focus on strength training, yoga, moderate-intense cardio.
What kind of discharge should I expect during this phase?
There’s a chance you may not notice any discharge during this phase due to decreased hormone levels. Your vulva will be relatively dry during this phase. If you do notice discharge, it will likely be a thick mucus/sticky.
What’s the focus of sex during this phase?
During the Luteal Phase, you may need a little more stimulation than other times during your cycle. As a result of lower hormone levels, your body will be less sensitive than other phases. This is a great time to try new sex toys and new positions and to encourage your partner to focus on both vaginal and clitoral climax.
Your body is constantly sending you signals all of the time, but especially during the Luteal Phase. Begin to pay closer attention to your physical symptoms and intuit what your body might need. As every vulva-owning person knows, the days leading up to your period can be emotional and complicated.
This is the phase when, all of the sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, you might find yourself thinking — I want a new job/ house/ car/ husband/ wife/ life/ insert anything else. Ever get swept up in a fever-pitch, needing to completely overhaul your life?
Then wake up and see blood on your sheets and all those larger-than-life problems seem to make sense and feel totally fine? (Yeah, me too.) The hormonal changes during the Luteal Phase will exacerbate some of your underlying emotions and desires.
This doesn’t mean it's a time for big decision-making. Rather, pay close attention to what things come up for you during this time. The Luteal Phase functions as a truth-serum, lifting the veil to expose our most sensitive spots and emotions. Take note of what you’re feeling and desiring when this veil is lifted and use that to inform your actions and decisions during the more balanced parts of your cycle.