Progesterone is a tricky hormone. You may be familiar with it as the hormone that makes up your birth control pill. While it is used in birth control, progesterone is also necessary to sustain a pregnancy. The luteal phase is the period of time between ovulation and the start of the next menstrual cycle. It is during this phase that progesterone warms the body and helps build the lining in the uterus that will become a fertilised egg's cosy home. If your luteal phase is not long enough, however, a fertilised egg may not have enough time to implant and it can be difficult to get (and stay) pregnant.
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Be aware of anyone warning that "short cycles" are a sign of luteal phase defect. While it's true that a shorter cycle can be a symptom, keep in mind that you may ovulate later in your cycle, and even a long cycle may have a short luteal phase. Average luteal phase lengths vary from 10 to 16 days, according to Toni Weschler, MPH. Anything shorter than 10 days is considered short. If your period begins less than 10 days after you ovulated, it is short. Luteal phase lengths tend to be consistent in individual women, so if yours is less than 10 days month after month, you may have a luteal phase defect.
Premenstrual spotting can be a sign of a luteal phase defect, even if your luteal phase is usually longer than 10 days. This spotting can begin as early as a week after ovulation and can signal that the environment in your uterus is not ideal for a pregnancy. Spotting may be followed by an early period. It can be caused by rapidly falling levels of progesterone in your system.
If you chart your basal body temperatures, you will notice that your body temperature spikes one day after ovulation and stays elevated until just before the start of your next period. Your next cycle may be preparing to start if your temperatures fall below your coverline, the line (or temperature) that separates your pre-ovulation and post-ovulation temperatures. Ideally, your temperature will stay elevated for at least 10 days after ovulation to give your uterine lining time to thicken and a fertilised egg a chance to implant. If your temperature drops below the coverline less than 10 days after ovulation each month, it can be a symptom of luteal phase defect.
Your progesterone levels are really the key to your luteal phase. Low progesterone can cause any or all of the other symptoms of luteal phase defect. If your progesterone is low your body won't put your cycle on hold. Progesterone stops your period from starting. If the uterine lining is thick enough and an egg implants, your body will continue to produce the hormone and your temperatures will stay elevated to help the egg thrive. The presence of progesterone will signal to your body to stop your period so that you won't shed the lining and lose the egg. If your levels of progesterone are low, your body will continue to move onto the next cycle and you may have difficulty supporting a pregnancy. Your doctor can test your progesterone levels during your luteal phase and may prescribe progesterone pills to help you achieve pregnancy.
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