Period Bloating

woman feeling bloated

It can be bad enough having a period every month; many of us get a range of PMS or premenstrual syndrome symptoms like menstrual cramps, irritability and mood swings, but period bloating is another level of challenge: do we really have to go through that as well?

If you’re feeling bloated, you’re not alone. According to Diana Bitner, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist based in Michigan, about 70 percent of women experience bloating as a PMS symptom too. Feeling bloated can make you very uncomfortable and also negatively affect your self-confidence; it can make you feel like you've gained weight with a swollen stomach. However, the good news is that there are things you can do to help.

As we know we now have our very own WUKA ambasaador who happened to be a doctor. Each month we ask her a question related to our blog and get an expertise opinion. So we asked Dr Larisa Corda one question that really bugged us. Is menstrual bloating same as pregnancy bloating?
Her anwers is right at the bottom of this article...

Period bloating is one of the common PMS syndromes that occur around one to two weeks before your period starts and vanishes after a few days on your period. Period bloating is when a woman feels her abdomen is heavy and swollen just before and at the start of her period. When you get this it may make you feel like you’ve gained weight or feel that other parts of your body are swollen or tight. Although you might not be able to completely prevent or stop bloating, there are some things you can do to reduce it.

women featuring bloated during PMS

Alongside with menstrual cramps and other PMS symptoms, if you have a few days on your period when you start feeling bloated it can make you feel like wearing pyjama bottoms all day long! Have you ever wondered why this happens every month during this time?

Estrogen
girl holding a balloon

Period bloating may occur as a result of changes in levels of progesterone and oestrogen levels. The change in the balance of these sex hormones, which occurs about a week before your period starts, causes the body to retain more water and salt/ As a result of this, the body’s cells become swollen with water thereby giving you that feeling of being bloated.

The actual cause of feeling bloated is the digestive system and not your reproductive system..

According to Dr Penelope Law, a consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the private Portland Hospital, the uterus contracts in a very subtle manner every day. As you get closer to your period, these mild contractions, which usually happen at the upper end of your uterus, gradually move down to the cervix with an increased frequency of about every 40 minutes. This becomes more intense by the time you get to your period and can be responsible for the pains some women experience during their period. Although period bloating is linked to these contractions, Dr Law explains that the actual cause of feeling bloated is the digestive system and not your reproductive system.
 

During your period, the bowel becomes slow as the increased contractions of the uterus slow down the speed of food through the bowel (known as peristalsis). This process creates the swollen feeling many women experience during their periods and this can also be linked to constipation during menstruation.

How to beat the bloat: Ways to reduce Period Bloating

Now that you’ve understood the factors behind period bloating, how do you tackle it? Fortunately, there are different ways to reduce bloating during your period. As you explore these different methods which we will discuss in details, we encourage you to seek medical advice from your doctor especially when the bloating continues to happen after your menstrual flow. Since the causative factor of bloating dwells more on the digestive system, a review on your eating habits or the type of foods you eat can go a great way to reduce your bloating.

Reduce Salt and High Salt Content Foods 🧀

One of the ways to reduce period bloating is to avoid too many salty foods. 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.

These are some of the high salt content food that you should avoid. To cut down on salt, eat them less often and have smaller amounts of foods such as anchovies, bacon, cheese, gravy granules, ham, olives, pickles, prawns, salami, salted and dry-roasted nuts, salt fish, smoked meat and fish, soy sauce, stock cubes, yeast extract.

Eating processed foods is one way to spike up your level of salt intake as these foods contain a lot of salt and other ingredients that not healthy.

Plate of food with meat and cheese
 Water melon

Eat Protein and Potassium rich foods

In addition to avoiding salty foods, fill your plate with potassium rich foods like bananas, asparagus, melon, avocado, sweet potato and tomatoes to help maintain a good balance of fluids in your system. These type of foods helps to lower prostaglandins, which are a group of hormones responsible for causing bloating and muscle contractions. Research shows potassium decreases sodium levels and increases urine production. In this way, potassium may help reduce water retention and improve period bloating. Also try cucumbers, lemon juice, watermelon, garlic and ginger as these type of foods act as natural diuretics.

Avoid Foods that causes gas

Foods that contain a complex sugar called raffinose can cause gas as the human body lacks enzymes to break them down thereby causing gassy feelings and bloat. Foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower fall into this category.

Cabbage

Refined foods from carbohydrates such as white flour and processed sugars can increase the level of insulin in the blood. This spike in sugar levels causes kidneys to retain more sodium thereby leading to water retention which simply means bloating. So if you want to avoid this, you definitely have to take a break from refined carbohydrates especially when you’re close to your period. Choose to fill up on protein rich foods like chicken, fish, lean meats and tofu instead.

Take Less of Caffeine and Alcohol

If you want to avoid bloating, cut back on these two whenever you’re getting close to your period. During your period alcohol can increase bloating and make other PMS symptoms worse, while coffee can over stimulate the digestive tract thereby irritating your bowels and also dehydrating you causing your body to retain water.

Caffeine drains out magnesium from the body, which is one of the four key electrolytes the body needs. Take less caffeine, avoid stress and eat magnesium rich foods like leafy greens, dark chocolate and sunflower seeds to boost the amount of magnesium in your body. Note that menstrual cramps can be of the signs of low magnesium.

Coffee, latte,, black coffee

We should drink about 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated

Staying hydrated is often recommended to reduce menstrual bloating. Some people believe that one of the ways to reduce bloating is to drink lots of water, as it may improve kidney function. Start drinking water especially on the days leading up to your menstrual period. The amount of water to be taken daily varies from person to person as well as environment and personal health factors. The NHS recommends that in climates such as the UK's, we should drink about 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated. Take a water bottle with you all the time

Drink Peppermint and Fennel Tea

Drink peppermint and fennel tea: Peppermint tea can be very beneficial for your digestive system and help alleviate problems like bloating, stomach gas and flatulence. Peppermint has relaxant and antispasmodic properties and can help relieve cramps and spasms in the gastrointestinal tract, bile duct and gallbladder. This improves the passage of both food and swallowed air through the digestive tract, allowing them to go through smoothly and without pain or discomfort.

According to herbalists, fennel seed is an effective aid to digestion. It can help the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal system relax and reduce gas, bloating, and stomach cramps.

peppermint tea in a pot
Group Yoga

Exercise Regularly

According to experts, getting your heart rate up is one of the best ways to get rid of bloating and other PMS symptoms. When you don’t exercise, you tend to have a more sluggish digestive system, so learn to sweat it out and make sure you do so regularly since this will definitely reduce constipation. You can try lighter work outs like swimming and yoga.

Get more sleep 🛌💤 😪

If you are already experiencing bloating and uncomfortable menstrual cramps, get more sleep. Try to get a proper sleep every night for a minimum of eight hours. If you are struggling to sleep all through the night try these tips:

  • 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 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. 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.

This is also true during menstruation, in that levels of progesterone rise and can have a similar effect on the gut, which is why women can commonly feel bloated during their period. On top of which salt and water retention can increase too.

The other reason of course is that 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, and instead consuming more protein and fibre to help improve gastrointestinal motility.

Conclusion
Most women experience period bloating coming 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 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. It will be the right time to see your doctor.


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