When I asked friends about whether they get bloating during their periods, I was met with a few raised eyebrows and uncomfortable looks. It is, at least from my own personal experience, something that many women still don't want to talk about. Despite the fact that close to 70% of women suffer from it, we often stick to chatting about our actual period pain and not the "other stuff" that's also pretty uncomfortable (and, let's be honest, a little embarrassing, what with the excess gas that comes with it).
The truth is that bloating is a common part of your menstrual cycle, thanks to all those hormone fluctuations. (Note to self: Must remember that being a woman is really great.) But don't just resign yourself to feeling even worse during your time of the month. There are tricks out there that can help. Keep scrolling to find out about bloating during your period and what experts say you can do to ease the discomfort and make things a little easier.
Why do I bloat during my period?
To get the answers to a few bloating-related questions, I spoke to Anna Druet, a research scientist at Clue, an app that helps you track your period. According to Druet, the reason you might end up with digestive issues (such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea) around your period is due to the "hormonal chemical changes that come with your menstrual cycle. These hormonal fluctuations increase water retention, which cause symptoms of bloating."
What's causing it?
It very much so has to do with your hormones, which you can't control. Druet says that this is all to do with an increase in the hormone progesterone, which occurs after ovulation and slows contractions within the intestinal muscles, which in turn slows down digestion and causes gas retention. Our old friend stress can also have an impact on the digestive system, which can often be a symptom of PMS and affect you during your period. Which is unsurprising: Says Druet, "We tend to reach for carb-rich comfort food during this stage in the cycle, which adds to an already sluggish digestive system."
What can I do to make it better?
Avoiding salty or processed foods around this time, which will contribute to water retention, can help to alleviate bloating. Yes, that means avoiding your favourite snacks when you're in need of comfort food. Sob.
But Druet suggest that you try to eat protein in the form of chicken, eggs and healthy fats (such as nuts and avocados). You should also steer clear of anything too fiber-rich, as these will just contribute to gas. Of course, caffeine and alcohol are also off limits, as caffeine is a stimulant and can upset your digestive system, while alcohol contributes to bloating.
However, if you like working out, there is good news: "One of the best things you can do to beat bloat is to indulge in light exercise," says Druet. "This can boost sluggish digestion and help clear excess gas out of the body."
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Bellofiore N, Cousins F, Temple-Smith P, Evans J. Altered exploratory behaviour and increased food intake in the spiny mouse before menstruation: a unique pre-clinical model for examining premenstrual syndrome. Hum Reprod. 2019;34(2):308-322. doi:10.1093/humrep/dey360
Draper CF, Duisters K, Weger B, et al. Menstrual cycle rhythmicity: metabolic patterns in healthy women. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):14568. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-32647-0