After ovulation, the pituitary hormones FSH and LH cause the remaining parts of the dominant follicle to transform into the corpus luteum. It continues to grow for some time after ovulation and produces significant amounts of hormones, particularly progesterone, and to a lesser extent, estrogen. Progesterone plays a vital role in making the endometrium receptive to implantation of the blastocyst and supportive of the early pregnancy; it also has the side effect of raising the woman's basal body temperature.
Several days after ovulation, the increasing amount of estrogen produced by the corpus luteum may cause one or two days of fertile cervical mucus, lower basal body temperatures, or both. This is known as a "secondary estrogen surge".
The hormones produced by the corpus luteum also suppress production of the FSH and LH that the corpus luteum needs to maintain itself. With continued low levels of FSH and LH, the corpus luteum will atrophy. The death of the corpus luteum results in falling levels of progesterone and estrogen. These falling levels of ovarian hormones cause increased levels of FSH, which begins recruiting follicles for the next cycle. Continued drops in levels of estrogen and progesterone trigger the end of the luteal phase: menstruation and the beginning of the next cycle.
The average length of the human luteal phase is fourteen days. Between ten and sixteen days is considered normal, although luteal phases of less than twelve days may make it more difficult to achieve pregnancy. While luteal phase length varies significantly from woman to woman, for the same woman the length will be fairly consistent from cycle to cycle.
The loss of the corpus luteum can be prevented by implantation of an embryo: after implantation, human embryos produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). hCG is structurally similar to LH and can preserve the corpus luteum. Because the hormone is unique to the embryo, most pregnancy tests look for the presence of hCG. If implantation occurs, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone (and maintain high basal body temperatures) for eight to twelve weeks, after which the placenta takes over this function.