How to Get Rid of Period Bloating (and Why It Happens)

Published September 19, 2022
Shot of a young woman suffering from stomach cramps on the sofa at home

The time has arrived. Again. You're starving, but your pants don't fit and nothing feels comfortable. Everything and everyone around you has the potential to fill you with overwhelming rage. You find yourself crying over a life insurance commercial. Your family is a bit scared of you. It's PMS time.

Sad though it is, operating normally through your life while experiencing PMS is not an 'official' Olympic category. Period bloating can be one of the worst symptoms during this time. So what can you blame for all this misery?

What Causes Period Bloating?

There are several factors that contribute to the uncomfortable bloating that generally occurs on a monthly basis.

Progesterone

Progesterone is the overactive auntie of your reproductive system. She gets very busy and extra around the time your ovary releases an egg. She senses that egg and immediately goes into overdrive, getting the 'house' ready for the new baby. Once an unfertilized egg waltzes right on by the ready-and-waiting uterine lining, progesterone realizes she's not needed this month and her levels drop drastically. This sudden drop is the culprit for many of your PMS symptoms, bloating included.

Estrogen

Estrogen assists in the creation and release of your egg. It also can contribute to fluid retention, although not as much as progesterone. A balanced estrogen level is important. Too much can result in decreased sex drive, acne, and depression. Too little can cause weight gain and, over a long period of time, heart disease.

Thickened Uterine Lining

One of progesterone's jobs is to build up your uterine lining, making that bed nice and cozy for the incoming egg. Unfortunately, a nice, cozy egg bed of a uterus means a bit of a poochy belly for you. This aspect of period bloat will start to ease as you begin to shed this lining.

Water Retention

Both progesterone and estrogen play a part in water retention. These hormones tell your body to hold on to salt, and the increased sodium in your bloodstream then tells your body it needs more water to balance out all that salt. The result? Water retention and bloating. Water retention affects every single part of your body, but is often felt most in the midsection.

Gas

With a thickened uterine lining and all that excess water in your body, any gas trapped in your GI tract is going to feel a lot more noticeable. You can unwittingly add to the problem by swallowing air. When you chew too fast, you inadvertently swallow a ton of air and once it's down the hatch, it has nowhere to go but down. As your colon blows up like a balloon animal, your period bloat worsens.

How Long Does Period Bloating Last?

Everyone's cycle varies, as do their symptoms of discomfort. For some, progesterone peaks early, others later. Some have extremely high peaks, others lower. All the variables involved in maintaining a menstrual cycle mean that every woman experiences her period and pre-period differently.

This graph shows how progesterone and estrogen fluctuate during a typical menstrual cycle.

Hormone Levels During Cycle Infographic

If you experience extreme bloating before your period, that means your progesterone peaks early. If your pants start to get tight a bit later, during the first few days of your period, your progesterone probably peaks a bit later. You can see that estrogen peaks twice, right before the egg releases, then again in a few weeks.

No matter how long your period bloat lasts, it never feels short enough. The good news? You can do something about it.

What Can I Do to Stop Period Bloating?

Well, you can't do anything to stop it. It's coming. But you can do plenty to help it fade into the background.

Diet

Your diet has an enormous say in how bloated you get during the worst parts of your menstrual cycle. Here are some tips on what to (and not to!) eat and drink when the PMS train chugs into the station:

  • Choose low-sodium items during this time. The less salt you consume, the less water will follow. Sodium levels are also associated with the role of insulin in the kidneys. Kidneys turn the liquid you drink into urine through a long and complex string of events, and insulin and sodium help the kidneys function at their best level. The better your kidneys work, the more extra water they can evict. Hot tip: hide your salt shaker from yourself during PMS.

Salty Food Guidelines

Go For It! Be Cautious With...
Fresh fruits and veggies Canned food
Frozen fruits and veggies Restaurant-prepared meals
Quinoa Pre-packaged food/meals
Rice Soda
Whole wheat pasta Sauces (look for the low sodium version)
Potatoes Processed cheeses
Sweet Potatoes Pizza
Fresh or frozen meat Smoked or cured meat
  • Increase your water intake. This may sound counterintuitive. Weren't you trying to get rid of excess water? If the amount of salt in your bloodstream is balanced, the water you drink won't stick around. It will get to what it does best: flushing those kidneys and carrying unwanted waste out through urine.
  • Eat more foods rich in potassium. It turns out potassium and sodium don't like each other, so if you eat extra potassium, it will bully out some of that sodium in your bloodstream. Less sodium, less water retention, less bloating!
  • Avoid gassy foods like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce and beans (you know the song).
  • Avoid carbonated and sugary drinks. Fun fact: soda has a ton of sodium in it.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. These two delicious beverages do have a diuretic effect - meaning they will help you pee more and get rid of some extra water - but their adverse effects outweigh their benefits.

Exercise

Here it is again. The ol' exercise recommendation. It remains true that exercise benefits your body from top to bottom, and your period bloat is no exception. You've probably just finished groaning loudly because no one wants to waddle into the gym when they feel bloated. However, exercising as little as 30 minutes a day, three days a week, can greatly improve symptoms.

Exercise decreases bloating by targeting a specific culprit: gas. Moving your body around allows gas to work its way through the intestines, making room for everything else that's going on in there. Walking and yoga are especially effective in getting your body to scoot that gas along.

Medications

If your period bloating just won't quit and none of the above helps very much, your doctor may offer to prescribe medication.

  • Diuretics are a class of drugs that encourage urine production (they make you pee more). These meds up the speed limit on your body's urine highway. What was once a country road is now the Autobahn and all that excess water can leave much faster.
  • Because many PMS symptoms directly result from the sudden decrease in progesterone, taking a low dose of this hormone can slow this decline and lessen your discomfort.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) belong to a drug class called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). NSAIDs target inflammation in your body, and that includes intestinal irritation and swelling.

Take It Easy

Be kind to yourself. Take a break. Use warm packs and over-the-counter meds to help ease your suffering. Talk to your doctor if you feel your symptoms are bad enough to warrant prescription medications. Only you know how you feel, so don't keep it to yourself. Your sanity is worth it!

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How to Get Rid of Period Bloating (and Why It Happens)