Phases of the menstrual Cycle – 3. The Luteal Phase

Tired, young woman sits in her bed with her legs drawn up.

After the follicle releases its egg at ovulation ovulation it changes into the corpus luteum. This structure produces hormones, mostly progesterone and some oestrogen. After ovulation the levels of oestrogen fall and the levels of progesterone rise. If an egg has been fertilised progesterone will continue to rise, if there has been no fertilisation the progesterone will drop, the lining of the womb sheds and leaves the body as a period. Towards the end of the luteal phase, women may experience a wide variety of signs and symptoms including tender or lumpy breasts, fluid retention, food cravings, bloating, mood swings, irritability and depression. As many as 3 out of 4 women are thought to experience some symptoms of PMS.

Week 3 of your cycle

After ovulation the levels of oestrogen fall and the levels of progesterone rise. This oestrogen dip can cause irritability and fatigue although it is only a temporary drop and these feelings should only last a couple of days. Rising levels of progesterone however can make you feel tired, quiet and perhaps a little bit emotional. At this stage in your cycle your body is preparing for a possible pregnancy (you are between ovulation and menstruation) and wants you to eat for two, you are hungry and crave high calorie foods. If you don’t eat regularly you might experience a drop in blood sugar, another fun symptom of higher levels of progesterone, leaving you moody and drained. On the plus side the combination of oestrogen and progesterone means you are burning calories more efficiently when you exercise – this is a good time to lace up your sports shoes. Although your libido is dropping you might be feeling more loving and emotionally close to your partner. Plan romantic films and cuddles on the couch.

Week 4 of your cycle

Oestrogen is plunging and with it your mood. If you suffer from PMS then this is the time of the month to watch out for familiar symptoms. Not all women suffer from PMS and it can be influenced by lifestyle and nutrition. Some women only have occasional symptoms and others only very mild ones. One of the big advantages of tracking your cycle is being able to recognize these symptoms and patterns and therefore being better prepared to deal with them. The combination of dropping oestrogen levels and relatively stable progesterone levels lead to food cravings; an effort to get our “happy hormone” (serotonins) levels up again. Thankfully the same hormonal combination increases our ability to burn fat during exercise in the days before menstruation.

Did you ever find yourself feeling anxious or really sad sometimes, for no apparent reason? Maybe you are at the end of your luteal phase and experiencing symptoms of PMS. Mood swings, cravings or fatigue suddenly make sense when it becomes clear that they might be premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Moments of anxiety or sad days are less frightening if they are PMS symptoms and you know they will be gone tomorrow. Your menstrual cycle is more than just your period and cycle tracking is more than just being prepared for your period. Your menstrual cycle is a daily hormonal fluctuation which influences you, both physically and mentally. Hormones vary during the different phases of your cycle and this has a direct influence on you, both mentally and physically. It is worth getting to know and understand your own menstrual cycle – knowledge is power and femSense can give you that power!