Are you feeling bloated? Period Bloating is a PMS syndrome that can make you feel really uncomfortable. Find out more about how to reduce period bloating:
What is Period Bloating?
Period bloating is a very common PMS symptom that affects lots of us every month - sometimes having a negative impact on body image and self-esteem. It usually occurs in the week or so leading up to your period, easing off as blood flow ends.
But while it’s common, period swelling can make you feel pretty miserable too. As if feeling like you’ve gained weight and none of your clothes feel comfortable isn’t enough, it can also be coupled with other PMS symptoms such as headache and cramps. Read more about the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS here.
What Causes Period Bloating?
So what causes period bloating anyway? Doctors agree that there’s not really one specific answer, but it’s thought that it’s down to digestive issues and changing hormones during the menstrual cycle.
According to the NHS, one of the most common causes of bloating is excess gas, which can be caused by:
- Food intolerances
- Irritable bowel disease (IBS)
- Coeliac disease
And it seems that lots of us can experience digestive issues during our period too.
This study found that “hormone fluctuations in women of reproductive age influence the GI function” and further concluded that women suffering with IBS were more likely to experience digestive issues during their cycle.
Dr Penelope Law explained more about what happens in this article. She says that the digestive system actually starts to become sluggish during your period, as increased contractions of the uterus slow down the speed of foods through the bowel. This can lead to constipation and can also lead to feeling bloated too.
Changes in levels of progesterone and oestrogen levels
Doctors also believe that period bloating can be down to changing levels of progesterone and oestrogen during the menstrual cycle. The rise and fall of these hormones- in the week before your period and the first week of your cycle- can lead to the body holding on to more water and salt, and this can result in fluid retention.
A study carried out in 2017 backs this up, reporting that fluid retention in the body fluctuates during the menstrual cycle- with levels being highest on day one of bleeding. Thankfully, and as you probably already know, fluid retention levels then drop as your period flow stops, and hormones begin to balance out again.
And if you’re wondering why menstrual bloating makes you feel like you’ve gained weight- it might interest you to know that the experts who carried out this study actually monitored body composition of the volunteers who took part.
They concluded that:
“though females may feel that they are more bloated and heavier throughout their menstrual cycle, those feelings are not accompanied by shifts in body composition results.”
Our advice? Steer clear of the scales for a few days until the bloating eases.
Some women also experience bloating during pregnancy- and again, this is due to hormones. But how does that differ from period bloating? We asked Dr Larisa Corda, a consultant in reproductive medicine about it.
“When a woman is pregnant, not only does her belly expand to accommodate the growing uterus and baby, but in addition, women can experience bloating associated with a slowing down of the gastrointestinal tract,” she told us.
“Pregnant women have high circulating levels of progesterone, which is a smooth muscle relaxant, and as such acts on the bowel to reduce its contractions. Hence why constipation and flatulence are fairly common at this time! The other reason is that progesterone causes water and salt retention and causes you to hold on to more water when pregnant.”
So it seems that progesterone plays a role here, too.
How to reduce Period Bloating
Yes, period bloating can be miserable - but it’s not all bad news, because there are things you can do to help, especially when it comes to finding a comfy fit with your period underwear.
For ultimate comfort, even when your bloated use the world's first multi-size period pants. Yes, you heard that right. WUKA Stretch, fits up to four whole sizes and comfortably moulds to the wearer's body shape. Another option is WUKA Flex, which has handy adjustable straps that allows the wearer to change the size of the pants to up to four sizes difference with ease. WUKA Stretch and Flex sizing is easy, choose either, Size one (XS-L) or Size two (XL- 4XL). This means you can rest assured knowing that you'll be super comfortable, especially on those bloated days!
Foods to eat to reduce bloating
As already discussed, period bloating can be made worse by digestive issues, but there are some foods that might actually help - especially when it comes to fluid retention.
Drinking plenty of water might sound counterintuitive, but staying hydrated will actually encourage your body to let go of excess fluid and reduce bloating overall. Other drinks such as peppermint tea and fennel tea are also known to be great for reducing symptoms of digestive distress.
Its a great idea to fill your plate with potassium rich foods- such as bananas, asparagus, melon, avocado, sweet potato and tomatoes- to help maintain a good balance of fluids in your system.
These types of foods helps to lower prostaglandins, which are a group of hormones responsible for causing bloating and muscle contractions.
Research shows that potassium decreases sodium levels and increases urine production- helping to reduce water retention and ease period bloating.
Also try cucumbers, lemon juice, watermelon, garlic and ginger as these type of foods act as natural diuretics.
Foods to avoid to reduce bloating
Avoiding certain foods can be really helpful when it comes to reducing period bloating.
Dr Corda told us,
“Typically speaking, a lot of us experience sugar cravings and tend to consume more of this around this time, which can exacerbate that feeling of bloating further! Sugar can affect the microbiome in your gut and lead to increased inflammation, so trying to avoid these whilst on your period is a good tip to keep bloating down.’
Salty foods are a no-no too, as the sodium in salt can lead to an increase in the amount of water your body retains. So avoiding salty foods will definitely decrease water retention, thereby reducing bloating.
According to the UK’s NHS
adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that's around 1 teaspoon.
To cut down on salt, eat processed foods less often, and have smaller amounts of foods such as;
- gravy granules
- salted and dry-roasted nuts
- salt fish
- smoked meat and fish
- soy sauce
- stock cubes
- yeast extract
You night also want to avoid foods that cause gas- such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower.
And when it comes to drinks, caffeine and alcohol are probably best avoided too, as they’re both known to make bloating worse. Alcohol can dehydrate the body, and caffeine drains out magnesium from the body, which is one of the four key electrolytes the body needs.
Taking regular exercise can help, not only with emotional wellbeing and self-esteem, but with bloating too. Gentle exercise can boost endorphins, helping to reduce stress, ease cramps and headaches and keeping the digestive system moving too- which can be great for reducing bloating.
Gentle exercise such as yoga (use our period leggings for a comfortable and confident stretch) and swimming are great. And yes, you can swim while you’re on your period- our WUKA swimsuit is perfect for lighter flow days.
Get more sleep
Prioritising sleep is important at any time during your cycle, but particularly during your period. It can be hard to get to sleep when you’re bloated, but there are some sleeping positions you can try, and having a good bedtime routine can help too.
Being sleep deprived can have lots of detrimental effects on our physical and emotional well-being, all of which can affect bloating.
When we’re tired, we tend to reach for sugary, processed foods that can irritate the digestive system, we crave more ‘comfort foods’ and we move less too. Add in the fact that lack of sleep can cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to an increase in bloating, and its not a good time at all.
Try these tips for a better night’s sleep:
- Keep your bedroom at the right temperature to feel comfortable; the ideal room temperature is 16-18 degrees Celsius.
- Switch off screens for an hour before going to bed – the blue light given off by screens on our mobile phones and tablets is known to disrupt our natural body clock. Looking at these screens decreases melatonin in the body and when our bodies make less melatonin, we can feel too alert at bedtime to fall asleep when the body is tired.
- Keep up your exercise levels during the day. Physical exercise is a natural way to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression that can occur at the time of your period, and can affect your sleep patterns. Yoga is renowned for its relaxation and sleep benefits – but just moderate daily walking can also help improve sleeping patterns.
- Eat lightly and a few hours before going to bed. Avoid caffeine (in tea and coffee), alcohol and nicotine before bedtime.
- Keep fixed bedtimes and wake times - giving your body ample opportunity to anticipate and prepare for sleep.
- Check out the Sleep Council’s website for more tips.
When to see a doctor about period bloating
Period bloating is normal, but if you feel that there might be something else going on then its always a good idea to book an appointment with your GP. Very rarely, bloating can be a sign of ovarian cancer, so keep up to date with your smear tests too.
The bottom line on period bloating
Most women experience period bloating just before their period, and for a few days during it; it’s one of the PMS symptoms that happen often. If your bloating begins a few days before your period and goes away soon after the period starts, you really don’t have anything to worry about, as long as it doesn’t stop you from functioning normally.
Most likely all you need to do is try the lifestyle modifications mentioned in this article. However, if you start to experience severe bloating that affects your daily activities, or experience bloating that doesn’t disappear even after the period is gone, make an appointment to see your doctor.
How long does period bloat last for?
Most women experience bloating in the few days leading up to their period and for the first few days of their cycle. As hormone levels start to balance out again, bloating usually subsides.
Does period bloating make you gain weight?
Although it certainly feels like it when your clothes become tight, period bloating does not equal weight gain. Fluid retention is temporary and doesn't affect fat mass.
Can I get rid of period bloating?
There are certainly steps you can take to reduce bloating and to make it less severe, but there's not much you can do to stop it completely. It's a normal part of PMS for many women, and it's down to changing levels of hormones during your menstrual cycle.