All About the Luteal Phase of the Menstrual Cycle

The period between ovulation and menstruation (the fertile or fertile phase) is called the ‘luteal’ phase because it is when eggs are released from the ovaries into the fallopian tubes. During this time, women experience many changes including mood swings, bloating, weight gain, irregular periods and fatigue. Women may even feel nauseous during this time.

During this phase of their menstrual cycles, most women will have some bleeding but not heavy bleeding. Heavy bleeding is defined as more than five times per month. If bleeding occurs at all, it’s usually light and lasts only one day.

When a woman reaches menopause, she stops having periods altogether. She becomes infertile and her body no longer produces estrogen. Thereafter, she begins to bleed heavily again with regularity until death.

Menstruation is the natural biological process that regulates the flow of blood through the reproductive system in order to maintain life and health. The average duration period of menstruation is around three to five days. The average age for a girl to begin menstruating is twelve, however it’s normal for it to begin between the ages of eight and sixteen.

If a girl has not started her period by the time she is sixteen, she should consult a physician to rule out potential issues. When menstruating, most girls will experience an array of symptoms including back pain, headache, bloating and nausea. These can range in severity depending on the girl and are caused by a myriad of factors including hormonal changes and stress. In most cases, these symptoms subside after the first three to five cycles as the body adjusts to menstruation.

The average menstrual cycle lasts between twenty-eight and thirty days, starting on the first day of a woman’s period and ending once menstruation begins again. A woman is considered infertile during menstruation and for a few days before and after. The most fertile time in the cycle is mid-cycle, when ovulation occurs.

The exact time of ovulation varies from girl to girl and cycle to cycle but can fall between two to six days before the onset of menstruation.

There are three stages to the menstrual cycle: the follicular stage, ovulation and the luteal stage. In the first stage, called the ‘follicular phase’, the levels of hormones like estrogen begin to rise. This causes a dominant follicle (a fluid-filled sac in the ovary that contains an egg cell) to start growing.

The other follicles in the ovary remain dormant at this stage. Hormone levels continue to rise and after around fourteen days, one dominant follicle has fully grown. This is called the ‘luteinizing’ phase. During this phase, a burst of luteinizing hormone (LH) is secreted. This LH surge causes the follicle to release the egg cell. The egg cell is then ready to be fertilized by a male’s cell. If no cell enters the egg, the egg degenerates. At this stage, the ovary releases high levels of progesterone and estrogen. If the egg is not fertilized, the level of estrogen and progesterone drop and the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, is shed during menstruation. The entire first phase lasts around twenty-eight days on average. If the egg is fertilized, hormones prevent the uterine lining from shedding and instead prepare it for implantation.

If there is a pregnancy, the second stage, called the ‘luteal phase’, begins. In this stage, the hormones estrogen and progesterone maintain their levels while a fertilized egg cell develops into an embryo. If there is no pregnancy, the hormone levels drop again resulting in menstruation.

The second phase lasts between ten and sixteen days.

While there is no cure for menstrual cramps, there are several ways in which they can be treated. Over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen can help reduce pain. A hot water bottle or heating pad can help sooth the lower back pain often felt in conjunction with cramps.

A hot bath or a massage can also help ease the pain. In cases where these treatments do not work, prescription medication can be taken such as codeine.

Menstruation is a natural and healthy bodily function. It is necessary for reproductive health in women and failure to menstruate can be a sign of disease. While menstruation may seem embarrassing or uncomfortable at times, it is an essential process.

Menstrual cups and tampons can make dealing with menstruation easier and more environmentally-friendly. It is important to familiarize yourself with what’s to come so that you’re ready on day one.

Sources & references used in this article:

Normal variation in the length of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle: identification of the short luteal phase by EA Lenton, BM LANDGREN… – BJOG: An International …, 1984 – Wiley Online Library

Effects of an antiprogesterone (RU486) on the hypothalamic-hypophyseal-ovarian-endometrial axis during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle by VG Garzo, J Liu, A Ulmann, E Baulieu… – The Journal of Clinical …, 1988 –

Measurement of plasma LH, FSH, estradiol and progesterone in disorders of the human menstrual cycle: the short luteal phase by BM SHERMAN, SG KORENMAN – The Journal of Clinical …, 1974 –

Measurement of serum LH, FSH, estradiol and progesterone in disorders of the human menstrual cycle: the inadequate luteal phase by BM SHERMAN, SG KORENMAN – The Journal of Clinical …, 1974 –

Respiratory drives and exercise in menstrual cycles of athletic and nonathletic women by RB Schoene, HT Robertson… – Journal of applied …, 1981 –

The ratio of progesterone receptor isoforms changes in the monkey corpus luteum during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle by DM Duffy, TR Wells, GJ Haluska… – Biology of …, 1997 –

Lethal hazards of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle by IL MacKinnon, PCB MacKinnon… – British Medical …, 1959 –