A year ago, I came across an Instagram post by Erica Chidi, the LA based doula who wrote Nurture and is also the CEO and founder of Loom, a digital platform for sexual wellness and reproductive education. In it, she explains why she has begun to intentionally replace the phrase “I’m PMSing” with the less loaded and more body positive “I’m luteal.”
I read the post twice and immediately sent it to my group text with my best friends. Since then, I've made an effort to make the switch as well, and the experience is a reminder of the importance of unpacking the language we use to talk about our periods. Even the smallest shift can empower us to approach our cycle with more compassion, curiosity and awareness.
So what is the luteal phase? And why should it become a part of your period vocabulary? It's one of the four phases of the menstrual cycle, alongside ovulation, menstruation, and the follicular phase. Essentially, it’s the clinical term for the phase in which PMS occurs. The luteal phase marks the start of the second half of your cycle, beginning just after ovulation and ending when your period arrives. It typically lasts 12 to 14 days, and is driven by a significant uptick in the hormone progesterone, which prepares your uterus for pregnancy (or your period), as well as a simultaneous decrease in estrogen and serotonin.
Progesterone is often called Mother Nature’s valium, and when it floods your system you might feel bleary, tired, achy, moody, and highly sensitive. Hormonal changes can also cause a drop in blood sugar levels and trigger a craving for the comfort of carbs and sugar. Sound familiar?
The roots of Premenstrual Syndrome can be traced back to Hippocrates, who believed that certain hysteria and disorders were caused by “the wandering uterus,” which he thought was being controlled by the moon. From there, Western culture further contextualized PMS into a medical disorder without a remedy, vilifying both PMS and periods via countless images of weeping women at the mercy of their uncontrollable mood swings.
But being in the luteal phase isn’t a disorder. It isn’t something that needs to be fixed, cured, or apologized for. It’s a critical part of your cycle and a sign that your finely tuned reproductive system is functioning normally. Being luteal is more than just PMS – it’s the part of your cycle that reminds you to slow down, be gentle and generous with yourself, and cut yourself some slack.
Understanding the changes your body is undergoing to be both productive and reproductive can help you better navigate the physical, mental, and emotional sensations you’re experiencing, instead of just writing them off as annoying symptoms of an incurable phenomenon.
As Erica puts it, saying “I’m luteal” instead of “I’m PMSing” is a “more forgiving canvas.” It means something different to everyone who says it, and creates space to learn exactly what this phase means in your own individual cycle. It’s scientifically backed, untarnished by the influence of a patriarchal culture, and allows us to approach whatever we’re feeling with empathy and knowledge, and with less judgment. No one is saying that the luteal phase isn’t uncomfortable – it’s a time of tension and seesawing hormones – but shifting the language we use to talk about it also shifts our perspective, and helps us better understand the full framework of our cycle, and the specific forms of self care we need throughout it.
Written by Alison Green