Bloating during your period? I know the story well. Your period comes around, and suddenly those pants that fit like a glove a few days ago are feeling a little tight. If you’re tired of that puffy feeling and bloating during your period, I’ve got you—or at least a few game-changing tips. The culprits in question: Estrogen, progesterone, and their big shifts throughout the month are to blame for the swelling that many of us experience around our periods.
Rest assured, we can combat bloating with some beautifully effective lifestyle, diet, and exercise changes that help these hormonal shifts hit a little less intensely. If your bloating just won’t budge, there are also a few medications you can ask your doctor about to treat more extreme cases.
Something to keep in mind: It’s not always possible to totally get rid of cycle-specific water retention. But we can certainly give de-puffing our best shot and curb the effects.
Feature image by Michelle Nash.
Lauren Zielinski is a certified nurse-midwife with over 11 years of experience in women’s health and birth. She studied medicine at The University of Colorado-Denver with a focus on community health and birth center work.
What causes bloating during your period?
Have you ever seen an illustration depicting hormonal fluctuations over a single month in the life of a menstruating woman? It’s essentially an entire mountain range of ups, downs, spikes, and steep drop-offs. There are some major body changes, symptoms, and frankly uncomfortable inconveniences that accompany our periods each month.
If you’re like me, you want to know exactly what sends your body into a spiral of puffing up. There are two key parts to the puzzle: estrogen and progesterone. Relative to estrogen fluctuating, our bodies retain water. This causes bloating, usually somewhere between two and five days prior to the start of our periods. In that same time frame, progesterone is quickly dropping, which can slow down our gut motility (medical talk for causing constipation).
Less gut movement mixed with increased water retention may cause you to feel like you’ve gained weight, especially around your midsection, arms, and legs. It can also cause clumsiness—wait, say what? Yep! When you retain water, you retain it everywhere in your body—including your brain. Even minuscule levels of water retention may cause brain fog a few days before you start your period. Be mindful of creating space to tune in to symptoms like these. You’ll be blown away by how accurate they are at letting you know your period is on its way.
Incorporate Lifestyle Changes That Help Decrease Bloating
The week before your period is the prime time to ramp up the bloat-fighting lifestyle and dietary interventions. Let’s start with the easiest changes first.
Cut Back on Sodium
If you’ve ever taken chemistry, there’s a general truth about sodium that you’re probably familiar with: where salt goes, water will follow. This is true for your body as well. Keep this in mind when choosing what you’ll be eating prior to your period. Processed foods, fried foods, and many restaurant choices are loaded with salt. Keep an eye on sodium content in everything you eat so that you can have an idea of what’s going into your body. You might be shocked by the amount of salt you’re consuming—many Americans are! Strive to consume no more than 1500 mg per day. Eating lean protein, fruits, veggies, and whole grains can create a strong foundation to pave the way to bloat-free success.
Set a goal to get at least 80 ounces of water per day. This is much easier when you have a big ol’ cup or water bottle that you take with you everywhere. The bigger the better so you don’t have to refill as often. If you’re not a water lover, try the following tips to make it more appealing.
- Add frozen fruit for a burst of flavor.
- Add lemon and bitters. There are so many delicious herbal bitters choices out there. My personal favorite is from Dram Apothecary.
- Leave a pitcher with cucumber and melon wedges or strawberry slices and mint leaves in the fridge overnight. SUCH a tasty treat!
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
While commonly used and accepted in our society, we don’t often talk about how tough both caffeine and alcohol can be on our digestive system. Ever been hungover in bed with terrible acid reflux or GI distress? It’s pretty common due to the fact that both of these substances cause increased acid production in the stomach and gut. This can lead to temporary inflammation and swelling. It can also add to your baseline increased ability to bloat from hormones. Consider laying off these (admittedly tasty) treats the week before you bleed.
Get Your Exercise Groove On
If you’re moving, your gut’s moving, too. Research shows that exercise causes increased activity in your intestines, assisting trapped wind as it makes its way out of your body. Conclusion: reduced bloat! Working some cardio-focused activity into your routine helps your heart pump stronger and work harder and will decrease your body’s ability to retain water. Swimming is another great option. The hydrostatic function and pressure of the water on your body helps reduce swelling and increases circulation, both functions that are helpful to relieve bloat. However you choose to move your body, you won’t regret it!
Medications to Consider
If your bloating is feeling out of control, keeping you from functioning the way you would like, or causing discomfort that feels intolerable, it might be a great idea to ask your doctor about prescription medications to help ease the bloat. Additionally, there are a few supplements on the market that may help.
- Birth control pills. Using oral contraceptives, aka, “the pill,” puts an end to the monthly up and down dance of progesterone and estrogen. Instead, you’re ingesting small amounts of hormones steadily every day of your cycle, which cuts out the big shifts that lead to bloating. This can be a life-saver for people who are are concerned that cyclic bloating is stopping them from enjoying life and their ability to work or function as they please. Ask your women’s health care provider if this would be a good option for you.
- Diuretics. Some doctors will prescribe a diuretic to help you get rid of excess water weight in the form of increased urination. Again, this is something you should have a conversation with your doctor about to see if using one temporarily around the time of your cycle is right for you.
- Herbs. Head to your local herb supplier, health food or grocery store for some chamomile, licorice root, and peppermint tea. These three herbs help soothe your stomach, increase relaxation of the gut and uterine muscles, increase regularity of bowel movements, and help relieve bloating. Adding a slice of lemon to the warm tea may also help. It’s not always possible to find these blended together, but a quick solve is cutting open tea bags and brewing them as loose leaf tea. Mountain Rose Herbs is also my online go-to when it comes to purchasing easy-to-access herbs.
A Juice Recipe to Help Beat the Bloat
There are an abundance of naturally diuretic foods available in the supermarket that may help decrease bloating. Try drinking a fresh juice full of diuretic properties each morning the week of your expected period and through the first few days of your cycle. This juice is amazingly zingy, zesty, and delicious. You can feel how clarifying it is just by smelling it! It can be made easily at home with a juicer. If you don’t have one, try placing a custom order at your local juice bar.
Buh-Bye Bloat Juice
- 1 cucumber, peeled
- 1 orange, rind removed
- 1 lemon, rind removed
- 1 lime, rind removed
- 4-5 celery stalks
- 1 thumb-size or greater chunk of fresh ginger, washed
- 15 fresh or frozen pineapple chunks, skin removed
- ¼ of fennel root, washed
I’m hoping a few of these tips help you feel a little more comfortable in the coming months and beyond. Don’t forget to think ahead and focus on movement, healthy eating, and supporting your body to function at its highest level to help reduce bloating. Perhaps with some more background info, you’ll be able to pinpoint what kind of bloating you’re dealing with and apply the right remedies, or even get meds to help. And hey, it’s also not the worst thing to live in leggings for a few days.